Trouble is… surprise is an emotional amplifier: Feeling angry is hard enough. But when you feel angry after expecting to feel appreciated, your anger — and all the unhelpful behaviors that follow from it — is going to grow much bigger and more painful.
Expectations are beliefs about how the world should work, including how the people in it should act. And while they can be helpful at times, they’re often quite dangerous psychologically.
Sure, worrying about how you could handle all sorts of terrible things briefly makes you feel in control, but the mountain of stress and anxiety catches up to you eventually. Because when you’re chronically stressed and anxious, you start seeing more and more things to worry about, which leads to more and more anxiety and stress.
If you’re a chronic worrier, you know how much anxiety and stress it adds to your life. You also probably realize that worrying about bad things happening doesn’t seem to actually make good things happen instead. In other words, you probably realize that worrying is all side effect and no cure.
I can’t promise nirvana — and no one solution works for everyone — but if you can learn to identify and reduce these negative mental habits, I think you’ll find yourself a little happier each day.
So you worry. Because, even though worrying creates anxiety, it alleviates helplessness (temporarily, anyway). And for many people, they’d rather feel anxious and stressed than helpless.
On the other hand, people get sent to jail all the time for acting aggressively. And the reason? You can control your actions, which means you can be held accountable for them and they can be judged as right or wrong, good or bad.
The things that we assume will make us happy — money, status, good looks, etc. — usually turn out to be not nearly as effective as we hoped. And most of the self-help stuff we read seems, well… similarly disappointing in the long run.
As a practicing psychologist and therapist, I talk to unhappy people every day — many of whom are quite wealthy, good-good looking, and have read all the best self-help books. But it seems to me that what most often holds them back from happiness is the collection of negative mental programs running in the background in their minds.
We all feel anxious sometimes. And obviously, feeling anxious is uncomfortable — painful even. So what could be more natural than the desire to alleviate that pain and discomfort?
If you want to become happier, calmer, and more emotionally stable — especially in your relationships — start paying more attention to your expectations. And once you start noticing them, adjust them to be more realistic or throw them out entirely.
This is why no one ever gets sent to jail for feeling angry — you can’t control whether you feel angry or not, and therefore, it’s not something you can be held accountable for.
The issue with expectations like this is that, right or wrong, your expectations will frequently get violated. And each time they get violated, you’re going to experience surprise and shock on top of whatever other emotion you feel.
After spending all afternoon cleaning the garage, you expect that your spouse should immediately thank you and express their appreciation. When they don’t, you not only feel sad and disappointed but also angry and frustrated. And when they still don’t mention anything, you start ruminating on all the previous times in your marriage when you’ve done something nice and not been appreciated for it. Of course, this leads to even more anger and resentment, and eventually, is likely to lead to a fight or serious argument.
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