They say that the formula for happiness is to lower your expectations. Thinking about the last time I really enjoyed a movie or a meal was when I expected it to be much worse. I guess lowering your expectations is kind of like the key to being happy all the time. But at the same time, it’s not—at least, not entirely.
So what is it, exactly, about lowered expectations that attaches itself to our concept of happiness? Does this mean we should always resign ourselves into thinking that we should always “settle for less”? If that’s what it takes to be happy, then being happy is quite the difficult task. Perhaps that’s not it, then.
I mean, certainly we should continue to hope for the best. Hope isn’t a bad thing. And it never makes us miserable. But I believe entitlement does.
In life, there are two roads we can take when it comes to expectations:
One is hope.
The other is entitlement.
When we hope, we have faith that things will turn out for the better, even if we don’t deserve it. We believe that the dark things– the evil, pain and sorrow– don’t last. More importantly, we believe that nothing is mandatory. Our hard work, good character, and wishful thinking do not guarantee a life free from pain.
And you know what? That’s a powerful perspective to take.
Because then, from small things to the big surprises, we see the world through the lens of grace: the idea that we don’t deserve a single good thing. And no matter how morbid it sounds, it’s actually kind of beautiful to think of life that way.
Entitlement, on the other hand, isn’t hope. It’s the misplaced sense that somehow, this world owes us. That we are inherently deserving of the good that we want. So when we don’t get it, we have a misplaced sense of injustice that was done to us. This makes us grieve and makes us call life unfair.
And that is why entitlement is the root of all misery. The problem is, a lot of the time, our expectations come from entitlement; deep in our hearts, we hold the belief that we should have what we want because we deserve it.
The solution to a lot of our internal discord, to our disruption of peace, is simply gratefulness. The root of disruption of peace, of misplaced suffering, is entitlement—and that’s why we should be careful about it.
Here are three things that happens when we free ourselves from that sense of entitlement:
- We recognize grace and develop an attitude of gratitude. Grace, simply put, is the receiving of what we do not deserve, in a good way. When we see every good thing that we have in the light of grace, we stop comparing, we stop thinking “why do I not have more?” and we start thinking “I do not deserve anything I have”. We are put in a posture of humility. And we see things as they are, rather than as we wish them to be. We remove the self-tinted goggles that we were born with, and we see things more clearly. 2
- We are more grateful… even during the hard times! When we are faced with difficulty, when we are armed with grace rather than entitlement, we take even the hardest circumstances in even stride. That’s because we know difficulty and suffering are part of life. In a way, we expect life to be hard and full of things we don’t like. But because we have grace, we shift our perspectives towards the light instead of towards the darkness.
- Finally, we have hope… because our perspective shows our history of grace. When we look back on our pasts through the lens of grace, we start to see life not as unfair, but as beautiful. We stop seeing the myriad of problems, but we see how we pulled through. The saying “Everything is going to be okay” takes on a new light when we look at our pasts and see how true it actually is. And that breeds hope like no other.
We should hope, not expect, in the knowledge that we do not deserve anything. This goes for the good as well as the bad. But the beauty of hope is that it focuses on the light, always. There’s no such thing as darkness, after all. Only the absence of light. And the darkness will never overcome the light, by its very nature.
That, in itself, is enough to make us grateful forever.