For Happiness…you shouldn’t “should”!

For Happiness…you shouldn’t “should”!

For happiness, you shouldn”t ‘should”!

Happy people are optimists and optimists are realists. They aim high and look for positives but they’re also inherently realistic facing, when necessary, the cold hard realities of the day. Expect a lot from yourself and from life but ensure your expectations are realistic.

Three separate incidents have lead to seed being sewn which eventually lead to the development of this week’s column; although all separate, there was a common theme and that theme has become the heart of this short message.

The first incident involved a disagreement with my mother about the most appropriate (and inappropriate) ways to respond to our children under certain circumstances (an all too common occurrence, disagreements about raising children, given the incredible complexities of this wondrous challenge); the second incident occurred during a coaching session with a client (a very successful young businessman); and the third, well that’s a personal one about which I can”t reveal too many details but in short, came about because I was disappointed in my own reaction to a particular event.

What could these seemingly disparate events have in common? Well, they all revolved around the issue of expectations. One of the more common “thinking mistakes” that we all make from time to time (and that unfortunately some of us make far too frequently) is referred to as ‘should statements”. On watching your children misbehave, for example, you might think that they ‘shouldn”t do that” or that “they should know better”. While running a business or managing staff someone might think that “they really should be able to do better”. And during personal reflection someone might believe that they themselves ‘should have achieved far more than they have”.

As you may have guessed from the examples above these ‘shoulds” reflect our expectations, of ourselves and of others. Now there’s nothing wrong with holding expectations of yourself and of others (in fact it’s virtually impossible not to have any expectations) and there’s not even anything wrong with having high expectations but, and as is often the case this is an important but, there is something wrong with holding expectations that are unrealistic.

Realistically high expectations are fine; in fact realistically high expectations are great because they drive us to achieve and to be our best. Unrealistically high expectations, however, are unhelpful and in fact can be downright dangerous as they typically lead to destructive and unpleasant emotions such as disappointment, frustration and worse, anger and rage.

Now clearly the experience of emotions such as disappointment and anger is not conducive to the experience of happiness; but at the same time, it’s perfectly normal to experience frustration and similar feelings from time to time. So what am I saying?

First, accept that it’s perfectly normal and in fact perfectly appropriate, at times, to experience some negative emotions such as those describe above. It’s not, however, very healthy if good for anyone if you”re experiencing these types of feelings constantly.

Second, be cognisant of the fact that to experience happiness it’s important to do what you can to minimise the experience of these unpleasant emotions and that this can be achieved by reducing the frequency with which you experience them, and/or the length of time you experience them, and/or by reducing the intensity of the emotions themselves.

Third, you can do this by noting that the root cause of disappointment, frustration and anger is often ‘should statements” which as I”ve described above, can often be tied back to some form of unrealistic expectation.

Finally, the solution, therefore, is to challenge your expectations of yourself and of others. This isn”t the same as lowering your expectations but rather, it involves an ongoing process of assessment them and where appropriate, modifying them so they are, quite simply, more realistic.

Let’s face the facts – I”m not perfect; you”re not perfect; the world’s not perfect and ê¢__‘Ô_ nothing ever will be perfect. This is not “negative thinking” but rather, this is a realistic appraisal of the world and one that if adopted, can effectively reduce the experience of those unpleasant and unhelpful emotions (unhelpful because they don”t help us improve the situation in any way).

In summary, to get happy get real!