The very definition of disappointment is the non-fulfillment of expectation, and so there is a clear relationship between these two. Disappointment can only come from expectation. And it’s often said that if you have no expectations you’ll have no disappointments.
But expectation seems to arise spontaneously, and often even subconsciously, which is to say that we’re often unaware of our expectations until we find ourselves disappointed. And only then does it become clear to us.
But by then we’re already upset. We might be sad or frustrated or angry; all the things that come with disappointment.
So the question is, can we learn to live in such a way that we have no expectations to begin with, and in that way, we never find ourselves disappointed?
And it’s not as if our expectations are always unrealistic or unreasonable. Sometimes they might be very reasonable. The problem, however, is that life doesn’t always go our way. And when reality doesn’t match up with our expectations, then naturally we find ourselves disappointed. And the more we’re attached to a particular outcome, the more disappointed we are when it doesn’t work out.
The fact of life is that reality doesn’t always conform to our expectations. Now and then it might match up, but quite often it doesn’t. And there’s no written law that says that life is supposed to conform to our expectations. But when expectations go unfulfilled we often get upset, whether that comes out in some kind of rage or whether it’s sadness, or even just a subtle sense of discontent and dissatisfaction.
And we’ll often complain that life isn’t fair, but what does that mean? Who says that life is supposed to grant us everything we desire? The universe is under no obligation to fulfill our wishes. So this idea of life being unfair is rooted in the belief that life is supposed to comply with our expectations, and that in and of itself is just another expectation. And with that expectation, life itself becomes a great disappointment.
This isn’t difficult to understand, and I think that most of us do understand this when we actually take the time to really look at it. Yet, for some reason we go on repeating this cycle of expectation and disappointment. So the real question is, what to do about it? Is there a way that we can keep from having these expectations in the first place?
In my own life I’ve noticed how my expectations have decreased over time, decreased in frequency as well as intensity. And it’s only because I’ve taken the time to observe and bring attention to the relationship between expectation and disappointment.
And I don’t think there’s some quick solution that’s going to rid you of all your expectation entirely overnight. Like most things, it’s likely going to be a process, and that requires a certain amount of patience.
And I notice in my own life that when I try to force something like this to happen very quickly, to be instantly free of all expectations, that in itself is just another expectation, which again leads to disappointment. So, we need to let go of the expectation to be completely free of expectations, and to allow the process to occur effortlessly.
And the way to go about it is to simply bring awareness to the process, to simply observe as expectations and disappointments arise, and to understand the relationship, not merely intellectually, but more importantly through experience.
As I mentioned before, expectations seem often to arise spontaneously and subconsciously, and we may not be aware of them until the disappointment sets in.
So what I’ve learned to do, whenever I feel disappointed, rather than simply be overwhelmed by sadness or anger, complaining that life is unfair, I take a moment to step back and ask myself what was it that I was expecting?
Because I know that if I’m disappointed, there’s an expectation there somewhere. So what was it? And I wanna know, not so I can try again to fulfill it, but so I can let go of it. And when I’m able to identify it and release it, the disappointment goes as well. But not only this, but, in time, that same expectation is less likely to arise again.
Now it might come back up, but it may come up less frequently, and with less intensity. That is, I might find myself having the same expectation again and again, but each time I’m less attached to it. Through observation I’ve learned that it can often go unfulfilled, which leads to suffering of some sort. And so the more I accept that, the less I expect. And the less I expect, the less disappointment.
So can we look at our sense of disappointment, and understand what is the expectation behind it?
And again, not thinking in terms of what is fair or unfair, but simply understanding that reality doesn’t always conform to our desires, and that’s just a fact of life. So can we accept that fact?
And can we recognize that disappointment is simply resistance to that fact, to that reality? And can we learn to accept reality as it is without trying to force our ideals and obligations upon it? Because that just doesn’t work. All it does is cause us frustration. So can we just notice how our frustration with life is often due to our inability or unwillingness to accept reality as it is, which means letting go of expectations?
So, in my own life, when I really take notice of my disappointments, I realize that I’m not upset merely because of the way circumstances have unfolded, but more specifically because I had a specific idea in mind of how I wanted those circumstances to unfold, and the outcome didn’t match up with my desire.
So what is the real cause of my disappointment?
Is it the circumstances? Or is it because I’m so attached to an idea in my mind of how I want things to go? What if I didn’t have that desire? Would there be any disappointment? And in all honesty, I can’t say that I would be disappointed without this belief that things should be a certain way, that life should conform to my expectations.
So really we need to work toward letting go of our attachment to specific outcomes. Which isn’t to say that you don’t try to work toward a specific outcome, but to simply be aware of the need for things to unfold in a specific way, and the willingness to accept whatever the outcome may be, even if it’s very different from what you initially desire. So can we, in other words, go about performing actions without being attached to the results?
It might seem difficult or even impossible, but like anything else, the more you practice, the more natural it becomes.
Eventually you get to a point where you begin to recognize expectations as they arise. And knowing that circumstances don’t always match up, that the outcome is ultimately uncertain, you learn to release, more and more, the attachment to that outcome.
And if things do unfold in your favor, it’s a pleasant surprise. And if they don’t, well then, you still find something of value within it, because every situation in life offers us something of value if we’re paying close enough attention. There’s always some lesson to be learned. And sometimes the lesson may be nothing more than learning to let go of our expectations.
So, there needs to be a certain amount of trust in the flow of life, and to surrender to that flow. And when we have unfulfilled expectations, it’s as if we’re resisting that natural flow. We want to imagine that we know what is going to be the best scenario for our lives. We want a path that is clear and smooth and easy, forgetting that challenges and difficulties are what offer us the best opportunities for growth.
And in my own experience, thinking that I know what’s best for me, often times I’m wrong. Sometimes we want something that really isn’t so good for us.
Looking back at many of my own unfulfilled expectations, I realize, in retrospect, that if things had always worked out the way I had wanted them to, it still would have lead to disappointment because that wasn’t the right relationship for me or the right job or the right circumstance, or whatever the case may be. And I may not have understood that at the time, but now, looking back, it’s very clear to me.
So I can take that understanding and apply it in the present. I might want something specific right now, but if it doesn’t work out the way I want, then I have to consider that maybe I’m better off without it. And usually, as time goes on, it does become clear to me that the circumstance I had desired was not really favorable after all, and I can be grateful that it didn’t work out the way I had wanted it to.
So again, if we want to have less disappointment in life, we need to have less expectation. And if we want to have less expectations, then we simply need to bring awareness to the expectations we currently have, and to get in the habit of noticing them when they arise. Not to try and resist them or push them away, but just to recognize and understand them, and specifically in relationship to disappointment.
And to also be in the habit of noticing disappointment as it arises, and to see that it’s our expectations, not the circumstances, that are the cause of our frustration. And to simply surrender to the flow of life, to accept what is, to find meaning and value in every situation, whether desirable or undesirable; To understand that every situation in life offers us the opportunity to learn and to grow; to expect less, and appreciate more.