How To Manage Your Expectations - Pandemic Edition

In the past two months, have you experienced some level of disappointment? Maybe when you saw that your regular grocery items were constantly sold out? Or perhaps when you realized that you wouldn’t be able to see your friends for a while?

On the flip slide, have you felt relieved over things you never used to think about? Like being grateful that you had enough toilet paper at home? Or cherishing the fact that you have a smartphone and a decent WiFi connection to check in with your loved ones virtually?

If any of that sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Over the course of a couple of months, our expectations have gone on a wild roller coaster ride.

At the beginning, I remember thinking that this whole lockdown business wouldn’t last for more than a few weeks and life would go back to normal before I knew it.

Hah! Now, my expectations are so low, I don’t even want to think about the possibility of planning major events, like parties or vacations. I don’t think I can deal with any more disappointment, so I’ve been keep my expectations to the bare minimum.

I know, I know – that doesn’t sound very healthy…but maybe it is?

Why Keeping Your Expectations Low Can Be Healthy

Let me explain. Before this pandemic, we took our everyday pleasures and happiness for granted. Let’s be real – we didn’t realize how important the little things were, until we lost them.

Going shopping whenever we wanted, eating out, taking a walk in the park – these little things were just there and always an option for us.

We’ve had to adjust to not being able to do a lot of stuff or have a lot of stuff. To varying degrees, we’re all kind of dealing with the bare minimum and working with what we already have.

It turns out that this “less is more” attitude is actually pretty useful. Research suggests that our happiness isn’t fully dependent on how well things are going, but rather, whether things are going better than expected.

The Key To Happiness

Ok, so that sounds like science is saying that we should just have zero expectations at all times and then we’ll be happy, right?

Well no, not really. Because those researchers also found that simply having positive expectations can lead to greater happiness.

Think of it this way: you make plans to have a group video call with all your friends over dinner. You make a nice meal, set up your laptop and are excited about seeing everyone together after a long time.

Now pause for a second - the excitement and positive expectation of spending time with your friends already makes you pretty happy.

The next step: how high are your expectations for the video call?

1) Do you expect that everyone will show up on time, that no one will have WiFi issues and you’ll all be able to hang out like you used to?

OR

2) Do you anticipate delays/connectivity issues, and just hope you’ll be able to see some of your friends’ faces and crack a few jokes?

If you choose the first option, you may be in for some disappointment due to your high expectations. But if you work with option 2, you might be better off. By lowering your expectations you’re avoiding potential disappointment, and keeping the door open for things to go better than you had initially anticipated.

The take-away here is: have balanced expectations. Don’t keep them so high that you’re bound to be disappointed. But don’t keep them so low that you don’t feel any happiness or joy in the first place.

Keeping Your Expectations Reasonable

Remember, I’m not saying you should just let loose and like, not have goals or hopes or dreams. That’s not it at all.

By all means, have personal goals. Set expectations for yourself. But the key here is: be patient and kind to yourself.

This goes for others as well. If you have kids who are taking classes online, you may have had high expectations for yourself and for them at the beginning. But you’ve probably realized that:

a) online school is no joke (shout-out to teachers everywhere!)

b) having too high expectations just sets you up for failure.

On a personal level, you may have found your productivity levels have taken a hit while working from home or taking classes online. This is normal and you need to remember that we’re literally living in the middle of a pandemic. We need to majorly re-adjust our expectations for ourselves and for those around us.

In Short: Our Expectations Are The Key to Our Happiness

If there’s one thing you take from this post, I hope it’s this: be patient and be kind with yourself. I know, at this point, I sound like a broken record.

But when it comes to setting up expectations, there’s always a chance we’ll be disappointed. That doesn’t mean we should never expect anything good. And it also doesn’t mean we should never expect anything bad.

The key is finding balance in our expectations, right now, and as things slowly starts to re-open as well.

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We don’t live in the same world that we did two months ago. So naturally, we need to re-calibrate and re-adjust the way we perceive ourselves and the world around us.

You can’t be expected to find joy in the same things as before. Maybe because those things aren’t available right now or because things are just too different and you're still adjusting.

That doesn’t mean life will always be like this. Our world is changing, but we will adjust. We will manage and pivot as needed.

Perhaps the best thing about happiness is that it’s dynamic and ever-changing. Happiness comes and goes. Which is why when we do feel happy, it's a pretty great feeling.

So enjoy that feeling, embrace it. Find what makes you happy, especially in the middle of a pandemic.

And remember: expecting yourself to be happy at all times is counter-productive. You're allowed to feel stressed, you're allowed to grieve, you're allowed to feel a wide variety of emotions - not just positive ones.

By managing your expectations, the path to finding moments of happiness may become a bit easier.

How have you been managing your expectations during this time?

You know I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or flip me an email!

Until next time!

Sarah Ahmed electronic signature

Sarah Ahmed
Co-founder
WellNest Psychotherapy Services