High expectations

We have come so far as a species. We have advanced in science, technology, economics and politics. The systems we’ve created are complex, but they make prosperity possible for a great number of people.

Many people have access to free education, affordable health care, social security, and the internet, a place where information is widely made available for free. Violence has decreased in the last few hundred years, and we can now, for a price, travel almost anywhere in the world within a day.

And yet, we take it for granted. Our prosperity has increased, but so have our standards of living. People find a way to be disappointed with almost anything. The comedian Louis C.K. talked about being on a flight when a passenger next to him started grumbling about the wireless internet access that was offered on the plane for the first time ever, and it wasn’t working perfectly yet. Here was a guy, in a plane that was flying through the sky far above the earth at an incredible speed, connecting to a virtually infinite space of information on an essentially magical device that didn’t exist only a few decades ago, and yet the guy complains when this thing that he didn’t have access to ever before suddenly stops working.

Sometimes the expectations of people are so incredibly high that many things in life are a disappointment to them. And rather than adjusting their perspective of life, they decide that it’s not them, it’s life that’s bad. This is especially (and ironically) true of those whose high standards of living have insulated them from some of the grounding experiences that others have gone through. In fact, it’s almost never good to have exceptionally high expectations, not even when it’s about something you can control, because it often leads to perfectionism.

And yet, it’s easy to complain about the complainers. Sometimes high standards do mean that we envision a world in which things tend to work better than they do now, and if we have to expect a lot in order to be able to start working towards it, so be it. But if our own expectations prevent us from living lives that we can be satisfied with, it’s time to shift perspective.

High expectations are also prevalent in part due to the high standards that we have been educated to possess, and partly because we tend to compare ourselves with people that society deems to be successful, such as the famous, the wealthy, the workaholics, and the people who seem to have everything figured out, and when that makes us hold life to standards that don’t correspond with reality, it doesn’t result in a lot of life satisfaction.

One alternative is to realise every time we take things for granted that shouldn’t be taken for granted. What if, instead of comparing ourselves to ’successful’ people, we compare ourselves to our past selves, just to see how much we’ve grown? If we cringe when we think back on any things we’ve done in the past, it can only mean we’ve grown as people.

What if we think back on times when we were really sick, and compare how we felt then with how we feel now? What if we think back on times when we didn’t have the ability to look up a fact, message someone we haven’t spoken to in a long time, or transfer money in seconds, and compare it to ten to twenty years ago?

All we have to do is think a bit differently about what to expect from life.