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Lower Your Expectations and Increase Your Satisfaction

Lower Your Expectations...


Or Finding Happiness and Satisfaction in Everything


Or The story of E + R = S


The aphorism goes, hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. This saying pretty much covers everything from planning a strategy for the big football game, from getting ready for a major surgery, to the realities of marriage, to business start-ups, to sending your teenager off to college, to getting health, life, and other insurance, to and yes, even to zombie apocalypse response preparations.


I’m going to poor uncounted gobs of money, time, and attention into my children and they will never ever pay me back or in any way return any measure of gratitude back to me; in fact they will ultimately make me regret the whole entire painful ordeal of raising kids.

With each step we take on the journey of life inevitably we have opportunities to experience joy, pain, angst, pleasure, satisfaction and dissatisfaction.


Are you actively managing your own satisfaction?

Are you actively managing how satisfied people are with you and what you do?


This descriptive article will lay out the most beneficial strategy you can apply to manage your satisfaction with the world around you and to manage the world’s satisfaction with you.


Your strategy…

A simple math problem…


E + R = S

Expectations + Reality = Satisfaction

A simple understanding of Psychology…


The anecdotes:


Francine is looking to hire a new team of accountants. She looks at the pile of applications on her desk. She reviews the resumes and makes a plan of how to interview the applicants and how to make her hiring decisions. Francine over-estimates her ability to predict human behavior. On the one hand, she believes she can look at stacks of paper and spend 60 minutes talking to someone and thereby predict exactly what that person will contribute to her company. On the other hand, she also believes that by reviewing stacks of paper she can just as easily predict which applicants should not be interviewed because she can predict what those applicants can’t contribute to her company. Francine is operating with an extremely high expectation of her ability to predict. But let’s do the math.


Francine’s expectation of her ability to predict the future of these applicants is pretty high, so let’s give that a value of +10. The reality of the applicants she selects is probably a clustered spread around the norm, so let’s give that a value of 0.

E + R = S

10 + 0 = 10

This suggests that Francine is in for a rude awakening. She is way overestimating the success of this endeavor. If she would lower her expectations she would see greater satisfaction.

Kevin and Yazmine are both of average attractiveness. Kevin thinks he is less attractive, so he goes out of his way to dress better and look sharper. When people pay him a compliment, he is always flattered.

Yazmine thinks she should be a supermodel. When people pay her a compliment, she says, “Yeah, I know. I’m pretty. Get a life and quit pestering me.”

One of them is just floored and flattered by any attention they get and the other is annoyed. One has lowered his expectations and the other, well she has higher expectations than are reasonable.



The Psychology of Happiness

Happiness really is a matter of satisfaction or rather a matter of reducing dissatisfaction.

Or even better yet… Happiness is how you close the gap between your expectations and reality… E and R.

The happiness equation looks like this: E + R = S.

Positive S is happy.

Negative S is unhappy.

Zero S is just blah.

Where E (Expectation) and R (Reality) are numbers any numbers, negative or positive based on your own estimate (but use the same scale for each say -10 to +10). With a -10 to +10 scale, then total satisfaction will be a score of +20 and total dissatisfaction will be a score of -20. Let’s try this a few times…

I expect the Dallas Cowboys to win the Superbowl this year.

The Dallas Cowboys struggled to finish at .500.

E = +10 -- I had the highest expectations for the Dallas Cowboys.

R = 0 -- The team was a marginal performer.

The gap between what I expect and what I got is looked at as a positive or negative. A positive gap where Reality exceeded my Expectations is called Satisfaction. A negative gap where my Expectations exceeded my Reality is called Dissatisfaction.

So, for the cowboys we see that my S = [+10 – (0)]*(-1) = shows that the gap is -10 -- I’m dissatisfied and very disappointed!

But if the Cowboys had lost every game, then I would have had total dissatisfaction!

E = +10 -- I expect the Cowboys to go to the Superbowl

R = -10 -- They actually went to the turd bowl

See how that looks: S = [+10 – (-10)]*(-1) = -20 -- Total dissatisfaction! I couldn’t possibly have been more disappointed!

But if I had lowered my expectations for the Cowboys, let’s see what that would look like.

E = -10 -- I expect the Cowboys are going to lose every game this year.

R = 0 -- The Cowboys in fact struggled to finish at .500.

S = [-10 – (0)]*(-1) = +10 -- Here I am mildly satisfied. I lowered my expectations and the Cowboys failed to disappoint. They had a miserable year, but I was shocked and surprised that they won any games whatsoever. Now if in this year the Cowboys would have went to the Superbowl, then I would have felt maximum satisfaction. Conversely if I had expected the team to go to the Superbowl and they went to the Superbowl, then my satisfaction level would have been ZERO (nil). This is basically getting what you expect, which really produces very little satisfaction in comparison to getting so much more than you expected, which is a great thing to see. In our model, dissatisfaction starts at negative 1 (-1). Only when you get more than you expect will you feel satisfaction.

So here is the first key to satisfaction and happiness: Lower your expectations.

Let’s try this a few more times…

E = -10 -- Mary expects her husband is cheating on her.

R = -10 -- Her husband was really working an extra job so they could go on a vacation. He wanted to surprise her.

S = +20 -- Total satisfaction! Total Hapiness!

E = 0 -- Tamara expected nothing from her investments. She invested her money and was really hoping not to lose any of it.

R = -1 -- In reality, the investment wasn’t a total bust and she lost only a very small portion of it.

S = -1 -- Mild and barely recognizable dissatisfaction.

E = +10 -- Sam bought his first luxury car. He expected this car was going to be the great thing he saw in all the commercials.

R = +7 -- In reality, it is a nice car, but it has had a few maintenance problems.

S = -3 -- Sam is not completely happy with his car. He is actually feeling mild dissatisfaction.

E = -10 -- Pedro expects that his wife is a lying no good devil of a woman.

R = -10 -- Pedro’s wife actually is everything he expected.

S = 0 -- Pedro knows what he has and is not disappointed. Blah!

E = +10 -- Karen expects to be the first female and the youngest CEO of her company where she just started working.

R = -10 -- Karen is stuck doing stupid work and no one will give her a chance.

S = -20 -- Karen is totally and utterly dissatisfied with her job.

In each case, you have to consider what affect there is when you either raise or lower your expectations. Lowered expectations tend to produce more satisfying effects than raised expectations.

The gap between what you expect and what you get is going to be either positive, negative, or ZERO. A positive gap where reality exceeds expectations is called Satisfaction. A negative gap where expectations exceed reality is called Dissatisfaction. And ZERO is just the lowest form of satisfaction.

One more time…

E = 0 -- Ramona expects nothing from the man she just met on the internet. She wonders if he is lying about everything he said.

R = +5 -- In reality, the man is a pleasant surprise to Ramona. He isn’t a superstar, but he is okay in most regards.

S = +5 -- Ramona increased her chance of satisfaction by lowering her expectations.

E = +10 -- Malika met the same man on the internet and expects that he is a superstar.

R = +5 -- In reality, the man isn’t a superstar. He is okay in most regards.

S = -5 -- It doesn’t matter to Malika that the man is okay, because only a superstar would have had any chance of satisfying her.

In the last case, for Malika, note how even if the man had been a +10 in reality (a real superstar), this would have produced a very unimpressive ZERO in satisfaction for Malika. Plus as soon as this superstar did anything that was not very star-like (say he tips really low at the restaurant), then Malika would too easily feel dissatisfied because her high expectation are always there ready to keep her feeling some sort of disappointment.

You have appreciate that some people are living their lives always disappointed. An old lady at the store mentioned how disappointed she was that a young man in the store had his pants sagging down below his waste, past his butt. If she had expected less (a lot less), then she would have been surprised and instead expressed how happy she was that the young man bothered to wear any pants at all.

These permanently disappointed high expectation people show up everywhere. We call them grumps or grumpy.


Church – they expect the world is supposed to be perfect – it isn’t.

School – they expect everything is supposed to be fun and easy – it isn’t.

Traffic – they expect everyone to get out of their way and drive like them – we don’t.

Politics – they expect leaders to save the world – they never do.

Dating – they expect sex all the time from their significant other – something he or she just doesn’t feel like all the time.

Children – they expect their son will be a great soccer player – their son hates soccer, but their daughter loves it.

On the other hand…here are some perpetually happy people:

Jolena walks down the street expecting to be accosted, mugged, accosted, and/or shot (she packs a gun) – she makes it to her destination safe and unaccosted and people were actually very friendly.

Fred thinks the guy he is meeting with wants to rip him off – the man actually gave him a great deal and helped him save more money on his next transaction.

Pearla’s boss asked to see her – she thinks she is going to get fired – her boss acknowledged how hard she had been working and gave her some bonus money.

Sevvy goes to work thinking his boss is a flaming racist and a jerk – his boss is a flaming racist and a jerk, but she pays him very well for his work.

Karl goes to the doctor’s office and is expecting the worst news about the spot on his Xray – the doctor comes in and says the test showed it’s not cancer and there’s an easy procedure to alleviate his pain.

Belinda is going to vote for the man, but she suspects he is a lying cheating crooked politician, but he might be better than the guy in the position now – it turns out that the man she voted on delivered on half the things he promised.

Megs is waiting to hear back from the family attorney. She expects her mother left everything to her lazy good for nothing older brother. She's worried she'll have to take him to court over the family estate. She later finds out that her mother split the estate between them and she is so absolutely happy with the state of affairs.

Cooper graduated from college and heard that plenty of college grads were unemployed. He kept looking and even looked at some unconventional job sites. He landed a job within a few weeks working for the Federal government. He couldn't be happier!


Tease out the things in your life and how happy you would be if you just lowered your expectations…even just a little here and there.


Am I discounting the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy? As a psychologist... not at all. Instead I am simply highlighting the power inherent in appropriate expectations and what usually happens when your expectations are simply too high to be realistic.


~Van



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