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Will Lowering Your Expectations Make You Happier?

Written by Mary Louise VanNatta on Mar. 1st, 2022

We’ve been used to fast service. We came to expect 2-day shipping. Most business professionals have high expectations for themselves and their staff. In return, they often have elevated expectations for others. What happens when something like a pandemic changes that?

When you’re out dining downtown, you might see signs asking for your patience and understanding as businesses struggle with staffing. Restaurant and retail wait times are longer. Orders aren’t being filled as fast due to supply chain issues. If you need something repaired, you may have to wait months. Are you agitated? Is it time to change your expectations?

Recent self-help articles have championed the virtue of having low expectations. As a strategy, it makes sense. The lower your expectations are, the more often they will be met or exceeded. If experiences are better than we planned, that makes us happy. Therefore, people with low expectations will be satisfied more often.

This idea does have some scientific backing. In 2014, Dr. Robb Rutledge, the senior research associate at University College London (UCL), created a simple probability game in which players either won or lost money. The researchers monitored brain activity through an MRI machine. The study found that positive emotions had less to do with the amount of money won and more to do with how the player’s winnings compared to their expected performance. In other words, players who had the lowest expectations for winning were happier.

However, some argue that low expectations can harm our quality of life. In an article for the online platform Medium, Eze Onukwube writes that “when we entertain low expectations… it enervates us from pursuing greatness. Our belief creates a force-field of attraction that draws the very thing you are expecting toward you.”
Low expectations perpetuate the status quo. Businesses that have low expectations for their employees or performance metrics aren’t priming themselves for success. A workplace culture that focuses on high, but not impossible, expectations better serve the needs of clients and the greater community.

Expectations require somewhat of a balanced approach. We can’t go through life always assuming that things will go our way. As businesses recover from the pandemic, we need to give them grace and be patient a little longer. Don’t let this go on forever. Keep your standards for your organization high.

Mary Louise VanNatta is CEO of VanNatta Public Relations. PRSalem.com

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