We’ve heard a lot about hope recently, but one thing was not said. Hope is scary. Anyone who dares to hope runs the risk of disappointment and feelings of failure. With the overwhelming focus on success in our culture, the threat of failure and disappointment is blown out of proportion. In my counseling practice, I see a lot of people who are afraid to follow their dreams without a guarantee.
On the other hand, hope is what keeps us going, gives us the courage to pursue our dreams, and draws us into creating the future. Without hope, we fall in to depression and despair, and we have no way of getting thorough life’s disappointments and problems.
Optimism works—research has shown that people who are optimistic have better lives. Expectations, on the other hand, are like demanding things of others, and of life . It’s like beginning with the thought, “If I don't get what I want, I'll be upset,” which is throwing a temper tantrum. A life full of little emotional temper tantrums is not a pleasant life. Remember the old saying “Prepare for the worst; hope for the best”?
Certainly, we are happy to the extent that our expectations and needs are satisfied, and so we have a better chance at happiness if we don’t have unreasonable expectations, especially of the people in our lives. If I expect my husband to smile every day and tell me how much he loves me, and there’s a day when that doesn’t happen, I could let that make me unhappy. But if I understand that I’m married to a human being who will have variations in his mood, I could more easily roll with it when his mood doesn’t suit me. If I expect my children to have perfect behavior every day, without a fight between them, I will certainly be disappointed. So, to the extent that limiting unrealistic expectations of other human beings can enhance happiness, I agree.
If I expect and demand more of myself, and I push myself to accomplish something that is really important to me, I will feel happy about that accomplishment. If I encourage my children to expect great things out of themselves, and to understand how amazing they really are, they will feel better about themselves—as long as I don’t set them up to be failures because of impossible standards.
If you are afraid to hope, you may become bored. Boredom is avoidance. That is, you're bored because you're trying not to do something, rather than focusing on what you can do. The alternative to boredom is action. Try something new—get involved in a local book group, take dancing lessons, try a sport, go to church, go out for the evening, take some walks on new pathways. Get out some old board games—like Parcheesi, or Trivial Pursuit—and play with your family. Plant a flowerpot, or a garden. There is no real reason to be bored, and all kinds of opportunities to learn and grow.