Here’s a specific happiness technique you can incorporate today:

Have as few expectations about the future as possible. 

The problem with having expectations about our future is that they often undermine success.


To oversimplify things, we have two expectations about the future. Either it’s some level of fear, e.g. “I’m anxious about this,”  or  “I’m worried about the upcoming event,” or we have over-blown optimistic expectations, (“This year’s vacation will be the best ever!” or  “When I get the raise I’ll be incredibly happy.”) The crazy thing is that both styles of expectations are unhelpful to us.

Clearly, having fear (or even mild concerns) about the future sets up up poorly. (And the worrying doesn’t help either.)  But having super positive expectations is problematic too. Rarely are our super positive expectations met — hello disappointment.

Example 1: High School Prom

Let’s talk about specifics. Let’s talk Prom. Every movie about High School has a perfect prom. The decorations, the music, the friendship, the tender slow dance and that awesome kiss with the right person at the perfect time with the EPIC soundtrack. So when our non-Hollywood kids head to prom, the expectations are high. They’ve planned, spent more money than they have (“Thanks Dad!”), and staged elaborate photo shoots. They are pumped!

She expected nothing other than “It’s gonna be fun.” What a great approach.

But realistically how do these real prom experiences work out? Usually there is friend drama, many of the kids are on first dates with kids they barely know, often the awkward dates turn out to be duds, the fancy dinner is tepid, the conversation stalls, and the dance itself — featuring music that only the DJ likes — is missing everything that made the movie-version so magical. Oh, and that emotionally charged first kiss? Ick. Not with this kid. Bottom line:  real prom falls somewhere between  “It was ok” and a total bust. No magic. No violins. No big deal. It’s time to return thefootloose_dance tux.

Real prom is a disappointment. 


It’s impossible for real proms to meet our crazy, pop-culture-fueled expectations. (In other words, nothing is as good as the barn dance in Footloose!”)

What If We Could Stage a Prom with No Expectations?

Recently, my family had the pleasure of hosting an Argentinian exchange student. She is charming for a million reasons, one of which is that she has so few expectations of what to expect from American culture.

Abi went to prom with her American girlfriends. (In other words, no awkward first-dates.) She got dressed up, and was excited, but didn’t know much about what to expect. Just that it was going to be fun.expectations

She had a blast  — Everything was new and surprising to her, and she was delighted. Getting dressed up? Fun! Dinner? Fun! A ride in a limo with her buddies? Awesome! The dance itself? Fantastic!

What struck me most about her experience was the complete contrast between her and all the Americans kids.  She expected nothing other than “It’s gonna be fun.” What a great approach.

No expectations are better than lots of expectations.expectations2_360

So what does this mean for you?

Want to be stressed less? Want to focus on where you are? (As opposed to thinking about where you should be, or where you have gone?) Want to be happier?

Do your best to lower and simplify your expectations to “It’s gonna be fun.” Not epic. Not horrible. No details. Just fun.

Yup, you can plan. Yes, you can even rent the limo. (I’d take Uber.) But in the end it’s best to admit that you really don’t know what “it” will be like and embrace it.

Imagine the the opposite and purposely raising expectations. Imagine creating:

  • The best meeting in the history of meetings.
  • The greatest day of your life
  • The most satisfying holiday ever!


  • This meeting is going to be horrible
  • I hate holidays so the next two weeks will be really horrible
  • I know this “outing” will be miserable. I just know it.

Those are some pretty heavy expectations. They ain’t gonna help. Instead … Give yourself the gift of NO expectations. Your chances of meeting those expectations are 100%.


Leave us a comment below. How do you manage YOUR expectations? Can you give us an example of how too many expectations handicapped you?

3 replies
  1. Lisa Lauterman
    Lisa Lauterman says:

    Thanks for the fun article. I agree that one of the biggest issues with workplace attitude is our expectations.

    If we are able to just take things as they come we’re better off.

  2. Steve Aldrich
    Steve Aldrich says:

    I got on the light rail Sat. night and did not expect a pile of barf at the door, but got one anyway. Thanks to an anonymous person for exceeding my expectations!

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