Is lowering our expectations the answer?

The Daily Telegraph reported a year ago* that keeping expectations low may be the key to happiness – according to researchers at University College London.

“It is often said that you will be happier if your expectations are lower,” said lead author, Dr Robb Rutledge. “We find that there is some truth to this: lower expectations make it more likely that an outcome will exceed those expectations and have a positive impact on happiness.”

But the team also found that positive expectations can influence happiness before the outcome.

“If you have plans to meet a friend at your favourite restaurant, those positive expectations may increase your happiness as soon as you make the plan,” said Dr Rutledge. But the team found that visiting a favourite restaurant could actually make people unhappy because their expectations are so high that it would not take much for them to be disappointed.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

They researched that! Nothing new here surely?

Are they saying you’re happier having your low expectations proven wrong or when you enjoy the anticipation of a looked-forward-to event? Surely all they ‘discovered’ is that both are true.

eeyoreThe problem with low expectations is that all sounds a bit like scarcity thinking to me. Remember Eeyore from the Winnie the Poo stories? His is not a joyful life! If your predilection is to ‘thinking the worst’ then you’re wasting valuable moments of your life sitting under a rain cloud when the odds are equally stacked that the outcome will be a good one.

In a 50-50 chance of good or bad outcome surely the enjoyment of the anticipation of something far outweighs any temporary disappointment that might occur?

AND ANYWAY…..remember Law of Attraction? What you pay attention to grows.

Think something will go wrong? It probably will!

Enjoy the anticipation of a great result? Bottom dollar you’ll get that too.

What do you choose?




How conscious do I dare to be?

So, it’s now Year Two of this Happiness blog and, as I mentioned in my last post, I’ve taken on the fresh challenge (hence my new tagline) of daring to be more conscious. This is why….

Reality – the ‘what’s-so’ of things has always appeared to me as a bit of an inconvenience – something to be tolerated whilst I get on with the more serious business of dreaming my life into existence. I’ve shied away from anything that smacks of that ghastly word ‘discipline’ because I have a rebellious-child’s resistance to it. Why should I do anything that feels like a ‘should’  – surely I’m the one in charge of my own life?

As many of you know, I’m a big fan of Julia Cameron’s work ‘The Artist’s Way(and in fact I run workshops on it). Well now she has a new book out called ‘The Prosperous Heart‘ and in it she asks you to count evey penny you spend and receive in a little book. “What? No way! I don’t want to be wading around in the mud of my finances. And surely that’s all rather anal and sad?” I’ve also thought that in Law of Attraction terms this kind of attention to the minutae of things is misdirected – keeping your life small.

I’m realising now that I may have been missing a trick or two.

  • My weight and health have always been best when I’ve been counting what I eat and how I exercise.
  • I am very disciplined around organising my children’s school life, feeding the family, running my workshops, working with my clients etc. – it’s just I dont see it as discipline.

Abraham-Hicks talk about the importance of “loving what-is whilst reaching for more”. I’ve always read this as being OK with things not going the way I want whilst dreaming big. Not quite. I see now it’s about really meeting my reality honestly – i.e. not avoiding it – interacting with it, whilst maintaining a full expectation of growing into my desired future.

By avoiding the tricky subject of money and body weight in the name of attracting better things I was in fact only keeping resistance in place.

So now I am resolved to spend a year exploring this new concept of consciousness – being with what-is – even though I sometimes want to fight it in the name of positive thinking.

The name of the game is to ENJOY being with how things really are. I’m not embarking on this exercise of counting everything I eat and every penny I spend as a way of wallowing in lack and self-loathing – on the contrary I’m doing it to say: “This is worth paying attention to. This matters to me and I value my relationship with it.”

My very wise friend and coach Karen Hood-Caddy said to me this week: “It’s all about understanding how things work and then working inside of that.”

Yes! I think I’m starting to get it. Money, body weight etc. operate in a certain way. When I pay attention to that and work inside the parameters of that I, paradoxically, experience much greater control and therefore greater freedom.

I’m reminded of Stephen Fry’s great descripton of poetry. It is not, he argues, a restrictive form. When you write a novel you have so much choice about how you structure and shape it, it can be utterly overwhelming to begin; but with a poem the rules (mostly) are laid out and, now that you don’t have to worry about the structure of it, you can enjoy the freedom of playing with it as you will.

So constriction, discipline – whatever you want to call it – can be freeing. Yet more evidence of the Universe’s love of Paradox – (my favourite being: in order to have something you have to let it go). Paradox is everywhere and that makes being a human being so fascinating and wondrous.

I embark on this year’s challenge with excitement!

When the Universe answers

Of course the Universe always answers. The only impediment to us knowing this, is our listening (or lack of).

There are days though when it feels like: “I ask and it is given”. Today for instance… This morning I was bemoaning the fact that there are no woods within walking distance of our home. Resigned to my normal semi-urban route I set off just now to enjoy a beautiful moment of sunshine. Something told me to turn left and then right – off the beaten track, and, you’ve guessed it, voila! Woods. Hoorah!

Trees ground me. I love their company.

Everything and Nothing

Liz is on her bike in the distance!

Today I went for a bike ride with my lovely friend, Liz. Interestingly, given what I’ve been talking about this week, (about how we judge so much by the past), she blew my expectations by taking me on a route I never knew existed before. I love that! As Liz said, suddenly just off a boring dual carriageway, there is a little slice of heaven – a quintessentially English pastoral scene. For every bit of ‘rough’ there is ‘smooth’ just around the corner if we look closely enough.

How apt then, that, later, our conversation in my favourite coffee shop (The Olive Tree in Nailsworth), should turn to my experience with infertility. I nearly died with I was 19 when my appendix burst. The aftermath of that left me unable to have children. After 5 years of trying to beat the odds my husband and I adopted 2 gorgeous children from Russia.  Words cannot describe how happy we are as a family. I think we all feel so blessed.

I recently watched Prof Jim Al-Khalili’s programme entitled Everything and Nothing where he talks about how, in a vacuum, matter and anti-matter exist at the same time. It’s seems little wonder then, that love and hate, despair and joy, sickness and health also co-exist in our world. We cannot fight that. It is just the nature of Everything and Nothing.

What could have turned out to be one of the most devastating periods in my life – my battle with infertility – has turned out to be the most profound, unusual, joyful and meaningful thing I’ve every done.

So this, I suppose is my happiness lesson of the week: Expect the unexpected and whether it be ‘bad’ or ‘good’ there is treasure to found if we look close enough… just off our metaphorical dual-carriageways.

How it can all pivot around spotting a deer

Pleasure is spread through the earth
In stray gifts to be claimed by whoever shall find.
~William Wordsworth

It’s been a lovely day.  We made an abortive attempt at blackberry picking in the rain. The plan is to make jam so we bought a lot of sugar and then set off  to our favourite spot near Tetbury. However, the berries weren’t ready, despite the fact that the meagre bush in our garden is redolent with big juicy black ones. We’ll have to go back in a couple of weeks time.

My experiment is all about taking whatever emotion I am in and bettering it. Today was natural and smooth-flowing  – I even managed to do some research into a cottage for the New Year with my sister and to catch up with Janet, my very dear friend from Canada – but I can’t say I was being very concious about upping the energy.

What raised the day from a good day to a special day, in the end, came from a very unexpected place. On a whim I asked my son, (my football mad daughter was  busy listening to Manchester United .v. Aresenal on the radio with Guy), if he would like to go for a walk. It turned out to be magical as we spotted a doe with her 3 young in a piece of scrub land between two houses. Very unexpected, very welcome and an absolute shoe-in for the title of ‘Uplifter’ for the day.