The power of unconscious expectations

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about expectations. What we expect plays a big part in determining how happy we are. Mo Gawdat in his book ‘Solve for Happy’ outlines a formula for happiness: events – expectations = happiness.

Certainly one form of happiness this may well account for – dopamine, the neurochemical involved in motivation and the anticipation of reward, is spiked when our events exceed our expectations. However, that seems to point to the benefits of holding low expectations.

There is also something to be said for holding high expectations. The research conducted in the area of self-efficacy beliefs suggests that the more confident we are the more likely we are to be successful. Our expectations in this context therefore are far better to be positive so that we are primed with this sense of faith and confidence in ourselves.

My suggestion to solve this problem of which is better to have for happiness, lower or higher expectations… is to find ways to elevate your expectations of yourself and how you will handle whatever comes your way. Then lower your expectations of what happens outside of your control.

This will help. But what I also realized is that we have to deal with unconscious expectations as well as our conscious expectations. The difference is simple.

We know our expectations for most ‘events’. We understand that we are thinking a certain way about what is going to happen. However, it is the everyday moments that deceive us. It can be so easy to forget that we constantly have expectations about situations.

We go through our lives as our brain constantly predicts what is going to happen based upon the past experiences we have had. In other words, we create simulated expectations of what is going to happen next on an ongoing basis. We expect what is going to happen when we go to the gym or for dinner or simply when we put on the TV. We aren’t consciously thinking of what we expect to happen but nonetheless we do.

So, not only do we need to be better at managing our own expectations, we also need to learn to recognize when we are making these expectations. When we can do that, we ensure that we don’t find ourselves at the mercy of them.




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