Stop expectations to Fight Depression and Be Happy
We live in an outcome based society. Everything is measured whether it is through profits, grades, or how many friends we have on MySpace. We humans have evolved into beings defined by the numbers or rankings attached to us. We also have learned to expect certain outcomes as a sort of pay for performance motto for living.
Some of these expectations include beliefs such as:
"If I just work hard enough, I can get what I want."
"If I love so and so they will love me back in the way that I want and need."
"If I give this much, I will get this much back."
"If I invest this much time into something or someone, I will be rewarded."
"If I am a good person, bad things won't happen to me."
Of course you can analyze any one of these statements and understand logically that they are not true. Yet we not only continue to believe such things but we also come to depend upon certain expectations coming true.
The problem occurs, then, when the unexpected happens. We lose our job after working so hard. We lose a friendship despite our giving what we felt to be one hundred percent of ourselves. We lose sight of a dream although we have great passion. We fail despite our best efforts. And sometimes no matter how good we have been, bad things still happen to us.
This is the time when we raise our fists in the air and curse at life's unfairness.
How do we live with life's inherent incongruence with our expectations? One solution is to lose our conditions and expectations for a certain outcome. When we place conditions upon our happiness, we set ourselves up for heartbreak.
How many times have you started sentences with the phrase, "I will be happy when..."?
Why not be happy now? Who knows whether those conditions will ever come true? And you just might find that even when the measures of our happiness have been met, we still aren't happy.
You lose the weight, get the job, buy the house, get the wedding ring, take the perfect trip, play the perfect game of golf and there is still a hole. It is possible to spend so much time fussing about getting what we expect that we miss out on enjoying right now. Life is not some direct line between points A, B, and C. The in between parts are just as important. I am sure you have heard the John Lennon quote: "Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans." There is a lot of life to enjoy and appreciate that has nothing to do with our expectations.
Does this mean that you shouldn't have dreams or move towards accomplishing goals? Absolutely not. It is essential to work towards a dream. It is good to want things. Do that work and dream that dream. But let go of the need for things to turn out a certain way.
This may all seem like mere words on a page, more self help mumbo jumbo. But I can tell you that this philosophy has personally helped me through some very difficult times. I will tell you a little story about how this way of thinking has changed my life and for the better.
When my youngest son was diagnosed with having autism ten years ago, I had a hard time accepting this. I wanted things to be different. I wanted to somehow make things all better. As a parent, I suffered, knowing that I could not wish away my son's challenges.
At that time my son was not talking, he was relatively unresponsive, and seemed to live in his own little world. We hired a gal who was skilled in play therapy. She was also skilled in helping parents through the emotional turmoil following the diagnosis. This therapist had a unique perspective on things. Whereas so many of my son's teachers and therapists spoke of wanting to either cure or "fix" him, this therapist spoke mainly of acceptance.
She explained that we would give him the tools with which to communicate and to socially interact with us. But ultimately it would be his choice of whether he would take them and use them.
After weeks of working with my son to help him, I was not seeing much progress, and I was swiftly becoming discouraged. I spoke with this therapist very honestly about how I was feeling disappointed. And she told me, "Your son is not an outcome study." And then she asked a question which tore straight through my heart. She asked, "If your son never progresses past this point, of how you see him today, would you still work at helping him? Would you still reach out to him, knowing that he may never be what you expect?" Her question brought me to the point of tears but I nodded yes. At that point I understood what it was that we were doing and why.
In order to let go of the grief of losing the child that he was not, I had to begin to embrace the child that he was. I had to let go of all the expectations that I had been holding onto. If I were to have the emotional fortitude to keep going to help my son, I had to lose all my preconceived notions of who he might become.
In time I learned the true meaning of giving. You give because you want to be there no matter what happens next. Sure, I would continue to dream that my son would learn to talk, would someday call me "mommy" and would give me a hug. These are simple things every mother expects from her child. But in my situation I could not allow these desires to become conditions for my own happiness. Even if he never did any of these things, I would still love him and be right there to help him every step of the way.
I was a whole lot happier after I got "it" about enjoying the process and losing the need for a certain future. My son is talking now. He calls me "mommy" and he hugs me. There are times when I forget the lessons that therapist taught me so long ago. I begin to feel frustrated that he isn't at a place I think he should be. I feel the sting of disappointment that he still has so many challenges to overcome. But then I remember what he has taught me all along. I forget the shoulds and the could be's and just enjoy the right now.
And I hope that after reading this that you can too. Be happy in this moment. When you think about it, now is the only time any of us really do have.