I have long been of the opinion that the secret to happiness is managing expectations. I once read that expectations are simply anticipated disappointments. So if you want to be happy, don’t expect any one or anything to make it so. I’m not saying don’t dream but in the dreaming recognize that the only thing you can control is you. Any other control is an illusion. Circumstances (like hurricanes) happen and we can never control another person but we can always control how we perceive.
Expectations, when you think about it, are merely thoughts. These thoughts create the lens with which we perceive the world and how we perceive creates our reality. Switch the lens, reality changes. Change the thought, change the expectation, change reality.
This became concrete for me in my early twenties. I had spent my childhood moving from place to place, going to multiple schools in myriad states from the east coast to the west and from New England to the deep south. My dad, one of the original corporate turn-around specialists, always had new challenges to conquer. As a natural introvert, all the moving was very difficult for me and I saw it as a burden. I wanted stability. Security. A place to call home.
I eventually met a man whose family had lived in the same town for generations. This was the guy for me! Mere months before our wedding, he was accepted into the Navy’s flight school. My expectation of stability evaporated but at least in my state of newly-wedded bliss my disappointment was short-lived. It wasn’t long before I realized that the resilience and adaptability needed for military life were the very things I had learned in childhood. What I once viewed as a burden had become a strength.
I also had stumbled upon the power of changing my thoughts. With my change in perception came many other benefits, like:
- forgiveness for the losses I’d held and stored as treasures
- a recognition that adaptability was a skill learned only in the cauldron of change
- a realization that place doesn’t confer stability but love does
- the understanding that home is a state of mind not a physical location
- the knowledge that I could recreate myself and start fresh by letting go of mistakes without anyone else around to remind me of them
What I learned is that circumstances could not define me but my choices would. I had experienced the reality of the power of my thoughts to create my life (and life continues to teach me that valuable lesson). I had found the secret to happiness.
We have so much power within us to create our own happiness. It all depends on our thoughts, our expectations, and the lens we choose to look at the world.
See how TED presenter Sean Achor learned this valuable lesson at the tender age of seven: his story involves a little sister, a fall from great heights, quick thinking, and unicorns.