You may not realize it consciously, but we all have a story in our minds; a story of how we believe life should be.
For many of us, it sounds something like: Do well in school, go to college, get a good job, fall in in love, and live happily ever after. For some, it could be: work for a big company, climb the corporate ladder, be successful, and make lots of money.
We live in a society where we hold ourselves to this standard of expectation – the way things “should be” – and we use this blueprint to gauge our self-worth. In order to feel like we’re enough, we believe we have to accomplish all of these things and check everything off the list by a certain age. If we don’t then we’ve failed – and this is what leads to feelings of self-doubt, disappointment, and frustration.
Here’s the problem: When it comes to your life path, it’s not a one-size fits all approach. The path that works for you may not work for someone else. Your definition of happiness and fulfillment may be different than the cultural norm.
Afraid to go against the grain, many people don’t even allow themselves to question what they really want because they’ve been conditioned to believe happiness is a formula, and if you don’t have X, Y and Z, you can’t experience happiness.
How to Close the Gap Between Where You Are and Where You Want to Be
What’s one area of your life that you feel good about? Even when you feel like everything is going wrong, you can always find something.
Now, think about why this makes you happy. Let’s imagine you’re doing well in your career. You may say to yourself, “I’m happy because I’m doing better than I thought I would be. I was promoted sooner and making more money than I expected.”
From a psychological perspective, the real reason you’re happy is because you are exceeding your expectations. When your life conditions match your beliefs about how life should be, you feel good.
We can apply this same principle to why you’re unhappy.
Think about an area of your life that you’re not happy about. Perhaps you want to make more money, lose weight, or maybe you’re still looking for that special someone. Whatever the case may be, you’re unhappy because your expectations aren’t being met.
You believe you should have this much money, should be thinner, or should be married by this age.
But think about it this way: If you grew up in a middle-class family where you helped around the house, cleaned, and made your own meals, you won’t be disappointed if you don’t have the money to hire a maid or personal chef when you’re a homeowner someday. In your mind, you always expected to work hard to pay your bills and be self-sufficient.
In another example, let’s imagine you were raised in a family where everyone was in great shape. As a result, you hold yourself to this high physical standard. Even if you are thin and beautiful, you may still be unhappy because in your mind, you still aren’t thin or beautiful enough.
This explains why even people who seem to have everything – beauty, money, and fame – still feel depressed. The truth is being unhappy has nothing to do with what you do or don’t have. Unhappiness happens when your life doesn’t match what you think it should be.
When life doesn’t go in the direction you planned, the best course of action is to replace your expectations with acceptance and appreciation. With expectations, we’re attached to a specific outcome and when out our expectations are unmet, we feel like we’ve lost. We feel like we’ve failed.
By eliminating expectations, you’re going with the flow. When you accept and appreciate the way things are, life is a lot less stressful. You’re in the moment, and you leave yourself open to the next incredible experience.