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?




Constricting our lives with assumptions

I had a bit of an ‘aha’ this week when I realised how much I approach things having already decided how they’re going to go. It was a bit of a shock, I can tell you, because I pride myself on being a glass-half-full kinda gal.

This revelation showed itself through a course I’m on at the moment about Happiness. When I was about 12 I decided that people didn’t get me. It stuck, but with lots of training and personal development I thought I’d made peace with this particular old chestnut ….. but noooo.

Could this be, I wondered, why I find it hard to get my fabulous program Future Self Now out to a wider audience?! If I’ve already decided in advance that people don’t get me, how can it possibly be allowed to fly?

I love it when we name things. It’s like  using  flourescent light to reveal fingerprints. Clues are revealed! I’m not going to be able to turn this thing about being ‘got’ on its head overnight but I can be more concious of it. I can catch myself in the act and when I do that, it’s no longer running me.

Have a look at this for yourself. Think of something that is important to you and then write down what you might have already decided about how it’s going to go, before it’s been given a chance to unfold. For instance – you might be going to a meeting tomorrow. Have you already decided that the others there will be hostile or, perhaps, apathetic? Have you already decided that they won’t take you seriously? Who would you be if you didn’t go in with this expectation? Open, light-hearted, confident?  How might this affect others around you?

When you start to think about this, you’ll see that there are all sorts of assumptions that we make about our day. “Washing up is boring!” “Fred will be ineffective”, “Tomorrow will be busy and tiring”. Try and catch these as much as possible and ask yourself, “Is that necessarily so? How could I approach this in a whole new way?”

I have a friend who tries to change her routine as much as possible – drying herself after a shower in a different way, putting things in different cupboards in her kitchen to keep herself guessing, even hiding her shoes. I can see now why she does it. So much of our lives can be automatic and when it’s like that we lose the ability to be fresh, alert, present and alive.

Thank goodness life is not linear

I’m back! Phew – bit of a wipe-out there for a week.

The curious thing about illness, I feel, is that it seems so often to coincide with an inner need for change. I noticed when I went from life coach to public workshop leader in 2002, I got ill. When Guy left the company he’d been working for for 18 years and became independant, he fell sick. Rudolf Steiner talks of illness and fever as the means by which we can ‘melt away’ an old way of being and bring in the new.

So, on the other side of this threshold I am seeing things differently. I realise I got a bit too caught up in my work with Future Self Now to be able to see anything else. I had got it into my head, I think, that there was only one way to my goals and if I could just find out where that elusive road lay, I’d be sorted.

But of course LIFE IS NOT LINEAR. I see now that there are a thousand different ways to my Future Self and many of them may look  counter-clockwise. That’s good. The unexpected, the tangental, is what keeps me on an edge – the creativity flowing  – and not getting stuck in stale expectations

So, life will not look the same from now on. I want to be alert to creating new habits, shedding old prejudices. Hoorah, I say! I am going to dip my finger in more pies and see what comes out. The plum, (the reward), I’m certain, will be new energy, new ideas and new beginnings.

Creating new rules for your happiness

I stumbled across this article today (see below) and I think it’s excellent. I urge you to try the suggested exercise – I tried it and realised I had these weird rules for my happiness which included – ‘Guy must be in charge of all the finances’ and ‘the children must fit in with my program’. Yikes! Velly inter-est-ing.

So here are some of my new rules for happiness:

  1. I feel a sense of adventure
  2. My curiosity is piqued
  3. Weird juxtapositions
  4. Smiles and laughter from the children and Guy
  5. I am open to serendipity
  6. I  embrace the magic of the unexpected
  7. I celebrate the success and abundance of others as evidence of the possibility of my own abundance
  8. Gaining by losing
  9. Moving my body
  10. Being punk-girl


Here’s the article:

How to Be Happy at Work

If you’re unhappy at work–or anywhere else, for that matter–it’s because you’ve made yourself unhappy. There’s an easy way to change that.

By Geoffrey James |  @Sales_Source   | Jan 30, 2012


 Let me start off with a little story.

I once knew a saleswoman–young, divorced–who got a diagnosis of breast cancer.  She had to work and raise two kids while fighting the cancer. Even so, she managed to be happy at work, noticeably happier than her co-workers.  In fact, she not only won her battle with cancer but subsequently became one of the top salespeople at Bristol Myers.

She was not, as it happens, naturally cheerful.  Quite the contrary.  When she started full-time work, she was frequently depressed.  But she turned it around, using the techniques I’m going to provide you in this column.

That saleswoman once told me: When you’re unhappy, it’s because you’ve decided to be unhappy.

Maybe it wasn’t a conscious decision; maybe it crept up on you while you weren’t looking–but it was a decision nonetheless.  And that’s good news, because you can decide instead to be happy. You just need to understand how and why you make the decisions.

What Are Your Rules?

Happiness and unhappiness (in work and in life) result entirely from the rules in your head that you use to evaluate events.  Those rules determine what’s worth focusing on, and how you react to what you focus on.

Many people have rules that make it very difficult for them to happy and very easy for them to be miserable.

I once worked with a sales guy who was always angry at the people he worked with. The moment anything didn’t go the way he thought it should go, he’d be screaming in somebody’s face.  He was making everyone around him miserable–but just as importantly, he was making himself miserable, because just about anything set him off.

For this guy, the everyday nonsense that goes on in every workplace was not just important, but crazy-making important.

I once asked him what made him happy.  His answer: “The only thing that makes this !$%$#! job worthwhile is when I win a $1 million account.”  I asked him how often that happened.  His response: “About once a year.”

In other words, this guy had internal rules that guaranteed he’d be miserable on a day-to-day basis, but only happy once a year.

One of the other sales guys at that firm had the exact opposite set of rules.  His philosophy was “every day above ground is a good day.”  When he encountered setbacks, he shrugged them off–because, according to his internal rules, they just weren’t that important.  When I asked him what made him miserable, his answer was: “Not much.”  When I pressed him for a real answer, he said: “When somebody I love dies.”

In other words, the second sales guy had rules that made it easy for him to be happy but difficult to be miserable.

I’d like to be able to write that Mr. Positivity regularly outsold Mr. Negativity, but in fact their sales results were similar.  Even so, I think Mr. Negativity was a loser, because he lived each day in a state of misery.  His colleague was always happy.  He was winning at life.  He was happy at work.

Make Yourself Happier: 3 Steps

The saleswoman who had breast cancer was happy, too, and this is the method she used to make herself happy:

1. Document Your Current Rules

Set aside a half-hour of alone time and, being as honest as you can, write down the answers to these two questions:

  • What has to happen for me to be happy?
  • What has to happen for me to be unhappy?

Now examine those rules.  Have you made it easier to miserable than to be happy?  If so, your plan is probably working.

2. Create a Better Set of Rules

Using your imagination, create and record a new set of rules that would make it easy for you to be happy and difficult to be miserable.  Examples:

  • “I enjoy seeing the people I work with each day.”
  • “I really hate it when natural disasters destroy my home.” 

Don’t worry whether or not these new rules seem “realistic”–that’s not the point.  All internal rules are arbitrary, anyway.  Just write rules that would make you happier if you really believed them.

3. Post the New Rules Where You’ll See Them

When you’ve completed your set of “new” rules, print out them out and post copies in three places: your bathroom mirror, the dashboard of your car, and the side of your computer screen.  Leave them up, even after you’ve memorized them.

Having those new rules visible when you’re doing other things gradually re-programs your mind to believe the new rules.  You will be happy at work.  It’s really that simple.

Oh, and by the way … That saleswoman? She was my mother.


Including it all

Yesterday I took my son Sasha, to the local sports shop for a momentus event. Because his birthday is so close to Christmas he had accumulated a large sum of money which he wanted to invest in a top notch scooter. We went, he made his choice and now, a few inches taller, he took it home and unboxed it.

No matter what we did, it wouldn’t fit together properly.

We called Guy on Skype and showed him what we’d done but he had no more clues than we did. Poor Sasha – what a disappointment after all that build up! I would have to take it back to the shop – a right pain, as it meant adjusting other plans.

Over our Christmas break in Wales, I read an article, (sorry I can’t find it for the life of me to pass it on!), which talked about the importance of  ‘including’ all our experiences. What this means is taking an unexpected event, like a brand new broken scooter, for instance, and, instead of resisting it, allowing it in. It’s not that we have to agree with it, it’s just that we can save ourselves a lot of wasted energy if we don’t bother fighting it, defending ourselves or otherwise railing against it: “It’s here so I will include it”.

I find this very powerful. It feels different to ‘going with the flow’ which can feel passive I think. ‘Including’ something has more of the air of choice about it – of conscious action.

I included Sasha’s scooter into my experience and we now have a replacement one sitting in the hall, having been put through its paces on the driveway. This experience, in a small way, has become part of the tapestry of these past two days instead of the energetic equivalent of a pulled stitch.

I think this ‘including’ thing will stick with me now. It certainly seems to make for a lot smoother ride.

Busting pre-conceived ideas

It occured to me yesterday as I was waiting for my kids after school, that I had a good many preconceived ideas about how the rest of the day would go. It’s a Monday, I thought, so Julia and Sasha will play a bit, then I’ll prepare supper as Sasha has his viola lesson in the sitting room. Then tonight a meeting with parents and staff about the school’s Christmas fair that I help organise. That’s the Monday routine. It also meant I was anticipating feelings of tiredness, concerns that the viola teacher would see us as neglectful, anxiety that the meeting would feel like a drudge for everyone.

Funny isn’t it? It makes me wonder how many other areas in my life I just assume I going to feel a certain way about. As with other blogs I realise it’s the conciousness of my emotions which becomes a big key to my ability to shift my happiness quotient.

  • What if I didn’t just assume that I’d feel a certain way about my day-to-day?
  • What if I didn’t take the past as a valid predictor of my mood?
  • What if each time I approached a task I assumed that it would be brand new?
  • What if I deliberately injected something new into the everyday things to make darn sure I never assumed the ‘same ol, same ol”

I’ve decided to invent the term PIB – Preconceived Ideas Busters. Every day I can question whatever feels like an assumption on my part, (Juliette talks too much, parents’ evenings are always nerve-wracking, Gordon is too demanding etc.) and make a deliberate attempt to re-frame those pesky past-based thoughts.

Asking ourselves What If – is a great tool for PI Busting. (“What if I just said No to Gordon?” “What if I invited Gordon for a cup of coffee and found out more about him?”” What if I found Gordon a girlfriend”, “What if I punched Gordon in the mouth” – only kidding!)

Also visualising a completely different outcome – even if its a bit whacky – but just to get used to the idea of seeing things from a different angle. (Gordon and I laughing hilarously at a shared joke, Gordon and I high-fiving the completeion of a job well-done and receiving a medal for team-work).  Have fun with it!

Spicing up the Routine

The children went back to school today and I’m back to my term-time routine. I like routine – it is the walls to my castle. (Which admittedy feels like a bouncy castle at times!) It’s nice to have a structure to work inside of – it feels safe – but it’s also nice to have plenty of room to manoevre inside of that structure.

For some reason even exercise and the regular internal work I do – journalling and chatting to my Future Self – seem to fall by the wayside during the holidays – I’m not sure why. But today – bang – there I was like Pavlov’s favourite dog, falling out of bed, packing my swimming things and a notepad, ready for a trip to the pool and a cappucino-and-journalling moment afterwards.

The exercise was the routine but the pool was the flex inside of it. I haven’t swum for exercise for years (I got into a real rut with the gym before the summer) and yet I love it. How nice to find something fresh to do inside of the everyday – no matter how small! So this was today’s uplifter and today’s lesson. It’s great to have routine but be careful not to become a slave to it. Find ways to mix and match and spice it up a little.