This word “expectations” seems to carry with it some very negative connotations. Most people don’t want someone to expect too much of them. And when your expectations are too high, you are without a doubt going to be disappointed.

Spiritual teachings have this thing about letting go of expectations. And I agree, letting go of high expectations of people is smart and healthy, but no one, not even the most spiritual or devout buddhist, can completely let go of expectations in their life. Nor should they. It’s easy to say “just let go and stop expecting things from people”, but it is just as healthy to have expectations as it is to let go of the unreasonably high expectations. 

Here are a few examples of healthy expectations:

  • If you are paying for water to come into your home, you are expecting to have water.
  • If your wife says she will pick up the kids from daycare, but then you get a call from daycare that she didn’t do it and you have to go get them, you can’t deny that expectation that you had of your wife getting the kids.
  • If a restaurant is serving you a bowl of soup that you have had a million times before, and they serve it have empty, you expect them to fill it up.
  • If your car breaks down and you need to borrow a car from someone who has one available who you have let use your car plenty of times, you expect that you can rely on them to help you out.
  • If you are walking down the street, you are expecting to not be harassed and have people screaming names at you, throwing stuff at you, or shooting you.
  • If you go to work, you expect you will get a paycheck.
  • If you buy something, you expect to get the value of the purchase,
  • If you have a roommate who shares 50/50, you expect them to pay their half of the rent,
  • If you are divorced with children, you expect the other parent to pay child support.
  • If you own a restaurant, you expect that people will pay at the end of their meals.
  • etc.

These are healthy expectations. Without them, we couldn’t survive. We need to be able to depend on certain things in our lives. And when it comes to relationships, some expectations are necessary for it to stay healthy. For example, in any relationship, there should be an equal, or close to equal amount of give and take. If you are giving giving giving and never getting anything that you need (or expect) in return to be happy and feel loved, then the relationship is not healthy. Those failed expectations on the other person are what teach you to let go of them and move onto someone who will be there for you, someone you can rely on, someone who meets your basic expectations.

These healthy expectations are also necessary for human courtesy and survival. We need to be able to expect that we will get what we pay for, that we will get paid for work we do, that our roommate will share in the expenses, that the father of our children will provide equal support, and that others will be there for us in times of need.

So let’s think about this. This whole concept of expectations. I agree that you really shouldn’t expect things from people above and beyond common courtesy. But let’s face it. We all expect common courtesy and to be able to rely on people we love to help us when we need help. We all expect to get paid when we work. And we all expect to get value for money we spend. In any relationship, you expect the other person to be there for you when you need them. Otherwise, the relationship is not healthy.

The kinds of expectations that people are talking about when they say to let go of expectations are things like:

  • expecting your boyfriend to bring your flowers once in a while,
  • expecting your brother to pay everytime you go out because he makes more money then you,
  • expecting your kids to behave perfectly as you have taught them,
  • expecting your parents to give you money,
  • expecting to get a bonus check because you did last year,
  • expecting praise because you did something nice,
  • expecting your friend to be on time,
  • expecting your husband to skip the basketball game to go shopping with you,
  • expecting someone to notice you cut your hair or got a new shirt,
  • expecting someone to let go of their expectations of you just because you don’t believe in expectations.
  • etc.

Those are the types of expectations that people should let go of to live a happier life. And I believe this is what people and spiritual teachings are talking about. These high expectations can make a person extremely unhappy because no one can live up to all of the things you wish they would do. So yes, it is definitely good advise to let go of high expectations.

But never let go of expectations altogether. Hold on to the healthy ones. The ones that keep you sane. The ones that tell you not to go back to a restaurant because you expected more. The ones that tell you not to date a person who is always selfish and never there for you. The ones that tell you you deserve to get paid for your work. The ones that tell you not to buy something that you expected more value from last time. The ones that make your life happy and less frustrating because you can count on and rely on those things in your life. These healthy expectations are good to have because they make you realize what is and is not acceptable in your life and help you to make changes rather than live with never being able to rely on something or someone.

We all have expectations and should cherish how they keep us healthy. Your relationships should always involve common courtesy expectations. You should always be able to count on people in your life to be there for you. The people who you can rely on are the people you want in your life. That is the healthy part of expectations.

Ignoring these basic common courtesy expectations is not ever going to bring you more happiness. Taking the point of letting go of expectations too literally in order to achieve happiness will only bring you the opposite.

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