Someone mentioned recently that a simple way to be happier each day is to lower your expectation of that day. At first to me this smacked of giving up— “I can’t make things good so I’m not even gonna try” kind of thing. But I realized this theory pertains less to what we do ourselves to further our well-being and more to the parts of our days that we cannot influence, like the punctuality of our bus to work, or whether we’ll be successful in overcoming writer’s block when we sit down to write a new blog post. These are circumstances outside our control: why do we categorically expect their best case scenario?
Having understood this, I’ve started to practice it, and the lowering of my various expectations has indeed brought me increased satisfaction in a week when on some days I’m going to castings for New York Fashion Week even though I’m not sure how much of fashion week I’ll be able to do now that I’ve just started two honors courses at my local community college. On the days I don’t have class I run around the city visiting offices of influential fashion people so at least I maintain some involvement in the fashion season, and on these days it is extremely helpful to lower my expectations of the castings I attend so that I won’t be disappointed when shows start and I’m not walking them or when the week ends and I’ve actually lost money rather than made it because of my multitudinous bus and subway fares.
Likewise on my class days I try to lower my expectations of academia. If I expect that my teacher won’t greatly like the essay I wrote or that I’ll have accidentally read the wrong pamphlet for homework, then I’m not as frustrated when it turns out I have indeed read the wrong pamphlet or whatnot (actually, I feel sort of satisfied at knowing my shortcomings so well…but that might just be me). This takes some of the unknown out of the labors of a day, and I fret less over the unacknowledged possibilities for failures that might otherwise weigh on my subconscious, ignored. I become less stressed. Does this not constitute an improvement on my quality of life?
So in review: to have a better day it is mainly important that you don’t lie to yourself about the prospects of that day, that you think realistically about the rather large potential things have to not go the way you want them to. Just don’t expect what isn’t possible— seems simple, right? But actually it isn’t: I think these little glossy lies (or maybe not lies exactly, but refusals to recognize risks; denials) are simply our way of convincing ourselves it’s worth getting up every morning in the first place. What we have to realize is that ignoring uncomfortable possibilities and lying to ourselves that the day will all come off successfully will only wind up making us less satisfied with the outcome of our strivings, as well as distancing us from authentic human interaction and genuine emotion. As the formidable Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote in the novel I’m currently reading: “Above all, do not lie to yourself. A man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point where he does not discern any truth either in himself or anywhere around him, and thus falls into disrespect towards himself and others. Not respecting anyone, he ceases to love…”* and thus, I believe, ceases to be happy. So let’s all be honest with ourselves, and expect less than we might desire, for expectations exceeded will bring not disappointment, but pleasure.
With that, I must go catch a bus to New York. Have a good Monday everyone! Or, you know, just a mediocre Monday— Monday’s aren’t realistically all that amazing, right? But we all make the best of them-- of them and every other day, too.
*The Brothers Karamazov, Book II, ch. 4, Fyodor Dostoyevsky.