The Root of (Most) Misery

For years I’ve been teaching counseling students that the cause of most emotional and psychological misery can be boiled down to one word. To inflame their competitive spirits, I tell them this powerful word starts with the letter E, and offer prizes to students if they can guess the correct word.

Sadly, no one ever guesses that I’m talking about “Expectation.”

Expectation is, IMHO, the biggest source of bad, sad, and maladaptive emotions. I suffer from my own expectations all the time. Just this morning, while trying to listen to a podcast on a walk, I became irrationally enraged with all things Apple. Why? Because my iPhone podcasting app didn’t work in an elegant, user-friendly manner. Even worse is that I’m fully aware of how silly it is for me to justify holding such high—or even modest—expectations when it comes to technology. I have repeated lived experiences that should have led me to know how often I (and others) are thwarted by technology. I also happily rely on and use technology for many hours every day, and although it feels otherwise, most of the time technology provides . . . my computer powers up, my emails get sent, my phone dials the right number, and magical things like Zoom conferences happen without adverse incident.

Here’s the irony: My expectations thwart my happiness far more often than technology thwarts my personal plans and goals. Nevertheless, I’m eager to throw a childish fit when an app malfunctions, but I continue to barely question my unrealistic expectations despite their predictable adverse emotional outcomes. Funny that (as the Brits might say). I resist blaming and changing that which I have some control over (my expectations), while I let loose with relentless complaints about that which I have little control over (technology).

The fortune in my fortune cookie from dinner with my father gave me a nudge toward recognizing and managing my expectations. Panda Express—not usually where I look for guidance—provided me with the wisdom I seek.

If I were inclined to use the word “wiring” when referring to neural networks (I’m not), I might question whether there’s a glitch in my wiring. However, because I’m pretty certain I’ve got no wires in my brain, I’m going after the glitch in my attitude. Sure, as I pursue my attitudinal glitch, my brain may undergo physical, chemical, and electrical changes, but I suspect the fix will be ever so much more complicated than clipping a wire here, and reconnecting another one there.

Thanks for reading . . .

8 thoughts on “The Root of (Most) Misery”

  1. John, I really love this post and I agree. Working as a high school counselor for almost 20 years I saw this play out daily. Teenagers get messages from adults that lead to unrealistic expectations. One of the most common was that high school is the happiest/best time of your life (it’s definitely not). I saw so much disappointment, sadness, anxiety, from my students when the high school experience was not meeting their expectations.

    1. Thanks Wendy! I hadn’t thought about that ridiculous “High school is the best time of your life” message. So often, it’s quite difficult . . . to say the least. I appreciate your comment as it helps enlarge my sensitivity to the breadth and depth of unrealistic expectations in the world.

  2. I obviously need to get out more and frequent Panda Express. Funny how fortunes are applicable, profound, and accurate when you need them.

  3. Is it really all that bad to curse the hose when it kinks and wraps around any possible object Sometimes The gods like to mess

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