We’re Expecting!!!

Sometimes while I’m reading a book I’ll have one of those moments when it feels like the author is speaking directly to me. Even if the book was sold to millions of people I can’t help but think the author had me in mind when he wrote it. This happened to me recently while reading about relationships and expectations in How to Live in the World and Still Be Happy by Hugh Prather.

“Whenever you feel a tinge of irritation or disapproval, you can be sure that you have an underlying expectation.”  Hugh Prather


I didn’t believe it; at first I tried denying it. But several days and many tinges of irritation and disapproval later, I finally admitted to myself that Prather was right.


My expectations of the other person–not the other person’s actions–are the real cause of my frustrations. That’s a tough pill to swallow! That means I am fully responsible for my own emotions. That means the crafty little story my brain comes up with to make the other person a villain and make me the poor helpless victim is completely false.

“An expectation is looking for something rather than looking at something. We anticipate one thing and do not clearly see the other thing that is at hand….. Our expectations are based on the past and are blind to the present.”  Hugh Prather

It seems impossible to live without expectations but how much less dramatic would my life be without the disappointments of unmet expectations? Most of my pain and suffering is self-induced. I hold on to hurt or grudges for years because of unmet expectations.

“An emotional reaction leaves you stuck, unable to move forward until you look more deeply at whatever the emotion is trying to tell you.”  Don Miguel Ruiz Jr. in The Mastery of Self

This leaves me stuck for a very long time. I let years (or even decades) go by because I refuse to look into my emotional reactions. If I could get out of my own way for just a minute I could see the other person as an ally instead of a villain. If their actions cause me irritation or disappointment, that tells me something about me, not them!

And, yet, I feel so justified in making it all about them. I don’t have to do any hard work if I take the position that they are wrong for not meeting my expectations.


We all do this. Listen for it the next story someone tells you. Any story you hear where someone was upset or disappointed you will be able to trace it back to an underlying expectation. Every time! They won’t say it, but this is what’s behind their words, “I expected this, but they did that instead.”

We’re all doing it every day. We’re expecting one thing and we get another. As a result we’re disappointed.


I’ve found if I live in the present moment without any expectations life can be full of joy. Looking at each moment as it comes without any stories from my ego is heaven on earth. Of course, it’s easy to slip back into old habits but the minute I turn to awareness any disappointment I had melts away.

Am I alone in any of this?

Do you have any expectations that are causing you frustration?

Instead of looking for, might we all try looking at?


Peace my Friends!




  1. I agree that disappointment arises as a result of failed expectations. But who creates the original expectation? As you point out, our minds are often the author of unrealistic expectations that eventually cause us pain and suffering when they fail to materialize. Happiness comes from realistic expectations. As the saying goes, “Most people benefit from low expectations.”


    • Thanks for the comment Bill. As for “who” (or “what”) creates the original expectations we have is a wonderful question! From where do any of our thoughts originate?? I believe it’s a myriad of possibilities. As adults, we’re shaped by our childhood conditioning and then layer upon layer of experiences from which the brain can choose to recall. This can cause our bodies to react without us even being conscious of the exchange.
      I would say, most times, when we’re disappointed due to expectations, our ego is in the driver’s seat and our mindful awareness is in the back seat (or even in the trunk). I recently heard a wonderful suggestion for helping us live with mindful awareness by Dr Daniel Siegel. He suggested C.O.A.L as a handy acronym: approach each moment with Curiosity, Openness, Acceptance, and Love. You’ll remember this and smile when Santa brings you a bag of coal for Christmas this year. 🙂


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