• Joseph

happiness = reality - expectations

You may have heard of the “equation” Happiness = Reality - Expectations, which really means that you are bound to be unhappy if your expectations are not met by reality.

Now let’s leave the concept of reality for another time (I’m writing another post on reality ;) ) and consider reality as what we experience and how this combines with expectations.

Let’s start with expectations and assume you are going to a party tonight. You want and expect the party to be a great one (if not, why the hell are you going?). You have been already to the same event and last time you really had one of night to remember.

Tonight you expect to go there and get to hear fantastic music like last time, to meet so many warm and interesting new people like last time, to meet those friends you love spending time with. You are even sure you will meet your she/he there. You think about how amazing your night will be, how you will do this and that thing with your friends and you will have a blast. You think about your she/he with those pretty eyes coming to say hi to you, dancing close to you, and eventually taking you to talk in the chill room at the end of the night. And there, wow, she/he crosses legs with you, and while talking asks you to go home together.

Now it’s time to consider the reality side and let’s assume you go to the event and the night is not good at all. Your friends actually went somewhere else, all the people you meet are extremely rude and the music is really nothing special. And your she/he is actually going home with someone else...

Now let’s take back the equation consider our fictionary reality and expectations above. All the happiness in your mind crashes. The reality and your expectations went in opposite directions. Like you and your she/he.

What happens when you rely on what you expected so much and that thing does not happen?

Grief hits you hard and everything inevitably sucks at least in that context. No matter what other amazing things, people, situations you could find, you won’t even see and feel any of them.

The same logic applies to stuff bigger than a night out. A job you particularly wanted, an opportunity you really wanted to take, getting your art supported by a bigger brand in your industry... The same holds true for relationships if you have expectations on how your friend or partner should behave and make you feel.

This thing just does not help you.

How can you overcome this? One way could be to make sure your reality is always exceeding the expectations. You can become an ‘excess’ junkie, perpetually chasing new and better stuff. More and more, endlessly.

Unfortunately this is not really sustainable (this movie can be an example) and if most likely your goals will keep moving. Things will become harder and harder because your expectations are a moving target that upgrades itself as soon as it is met.

Then the other option could be to lower your expectations. For instance stopping to want anything challenging, good and new for yourself and just going with whatever comes at you and the safest and easier options.

(I hope for you) this does not work either. It would be a shame to stop chasing exciting stuff just to avoid the risk of being unhappy.

I think there is an alternative solution: you swap expectations with preferences.

often new experiences are great as we don't have preset expectations, like listening to a completely new concert

Almost two years ago, I was pushing myself very hard. Mentally, physically, emotionally I was growing and fast, trying to improve every single aspect of my life like in a continuous bootcamp. Somehow I had gotten addicted to self improvement so much that I would see anything as a challenge where I had to give 200% of myself. No matter how good I was, my target was constantly moving up leaving me unsatisfied and unhappy.

Until I had two breakdowns. The first big one was physical: I fainted and hit a wall with my head in a night out. I was sober, but awake after lot of hours out partying that followed days with few hours sleep and long hours of work. I kind of put myself in that situation by pushing to the limit, in an attempt to show myself I could do it.

One night two months later, I crossed the line with my emotions and mind. I was in an event, talking with girls and people in the music industry and expected to make good impressions on everyone. But, no matter how good I was in each conversation, I would still find a reason to beat myself up for not being good enough. At some point I ‘accused’ myself for not having asked the number to a girl I had just met.

Then, a weird guy with moustaches looked at me and said ‘don’t overthink it mate’. No idea how this guy got it, but he did. He told me that it was clear I was stressing out too much. I realised it was time to change and ‘imposed’ myself a new challenge: stop overthinking.

Of course it had to be a new challenge. Of course I did not meet my expectations 10 minutes later when I was talking with another girl and remembered I had not to overthink, but I overthought… brain bash!

I ran out of the club and it was one of the few times in the last 5 years when I really felt angry and wanted to take a bottle and crash it on my own head. It was terrible.

However, it helped me understand what is the price to pay for letting your expectations always dominate how you perceive your experiences. It took me time, and few years later I feel I learned to have preferences instead of expectations. I have goals and things I want to do, but 1) I understand I don’t control the outcomes, so can’t expect things to go how I want 2) if things don’t pan out how I wanted, I can enjoy life anyways.

This kind of mantra can make the difference in you feeling unsatisfied or joyful in life. It can be what makes you appreciate the smallest things in life while you live them. It can make you feel deeply fulfilled while you are on your path and keep fu**ing things up.


Tony Robbins on the secret of happiness: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPh6rLjsCp8 - it explains well the expectations / reality comparison

Solve for happiness equation with Mo Gawdat: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AT9lD8TGyiM - it explains a lot about happiness and having expectations. His personal story is touching and his journey is moving

On self love by Charlie from Charisma On Command: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcH6tFugYfo&t=232s - this is the next step on the happiness path, and it talks about self love. If this makes you curious, worth watching!


I don’t really have one this time. But I will mention what helped me over time and can hopefully serve you if/when needed

1) Be aware that you never control outcomes. If people don’t like you, or you don’t get opportunities you want, or events you expected turn out different, there is little you can do to change this. But you can always enjoy other good things and still have all the fun in this world

2) Set goals that serve you, and consider them your strong preference. Do whatever is in your control to achieve what you believe is worth, but be at pace with not making it yet, or at all. When you like what you are and are doing, you will love it anyways, no matter the outcome

3) Be aware of weird guys with moustaches in green rooms of clubs, they read your mind

And things to remember…

- Happiness is a journey that all of us find hard a times to navigate, but we are all on the same boat and it takes time!

- If you beat yourself up, that does not make anything better, but actually worsen your condition. Love yourself while you are being bad until you are good

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