Happiness: Why we should keep our high expectations

'Mannequins in gold outfits with city terraces' photo by A Howse
'Mannequins in gold outfits with city terraces' photo by A Howse

Why we shouldn’t lower our expectations

Once again, the Tokyo Olympics shows us the incredible levels of training and dedication that these amazing athletes are prepared to go to, in order to win gold medals for their home nations. These daring risk takers often put everything on the line to reach their sporting goals. They seldom ever even briefly consider lowering their expectations.

Sometimes it is the activities we enjoy that can make our challenges and the problems which we have, seem bearable and worth overcoming, every day. Music and the arts help make us more sophisticated and intelligent humans and it could be argued that any creative pursuit that gives a therapeutic and calming feeling when practiced is beneficial. Having ‘a passion’ in one part of our lives can have a really positive impact on everything else we need to do. the pandemic has shown us how important the arts are to preserving our mental health and dealing with stress.

If lowering all our expectations was the key to years of happy living then why was the UK’s national lottery’s total annual ticket sales £8,373.9 million at the end of March 2021? (1)

If we are lucky in 2021 we have an income of some sort and we are fortunate enough to be able to live somewhere suitable. We hopefully have access to nature and if we have some outdoor space we consider it a luxury. In England we mostly have ‘good neighbours’ that perhaps we have had more time to chat to and get to know in recent months. All this and a reasonable level of health could just be the answer to a satisfying existence if we have very modest expectations.

One explanation for the huge lottery expenditure is that the average adult still needs the hope that a big win on the lottery could change their lives (and that of their family and close friends) in a multitude of fantastic ways. Therefore, with expectations lowered perhaps we all still need the hope of something magical and unexpectedly fortuitous happening to live content lives.

It is easy to say as relatively mature adults, who have had a collection of rewarding life experiences that independently living a ‘quiet life’ can bring a great deal of inner peace and contentment.

Happiness could be ‘everything in moderation’

In the last few seasons purchasing high quality small treats have gained in popularity and sales. Holiday money and ‘going out budgets’ have been reallocated to include little luxuries delivered to our doors. A weekly flutter on the lottery and ordering whatever are the latest trendy boxes of confectionary, cocktail making ingredients or floral arrangements for home delivery has just lifted our spirits enough. Most adults have been able to keep at least our ‘subtly glowing pastel chakras’ balanced. Boxes of baked goods from freshly popped up home bakeries have literally been selling like hot cakes.

Most mature folk are thankful this month for some warm sunny weather and the European football games, Wimbledon and the Olympics to watch to keep us all fairly jolly. These international games will suffice this year in the absence of a summer season of tickets for parties and festivals or even a royal wedding themed national ‘knees up’.

Exotic candles, Scandinavian blankets, inviting fireplaces and home cooking may have given us warm feelings of ‘hugge’ over the winter months that we all craved. However, the deep joy that comes with taking even the best ‘staycations’ does usually wear off after a week or two pottering around trying to catch up with the ‘DIY still to do’ list.

We check out the beauty spots and coastline in our chosen areas and if we are lucky, we get ‘a change of scene’. For some this is enough exploration for this year, considering the global health crisis situation still happening around the world.

Other British citizens who have been double jabbed bravely navigate the rules, queues, pricey tests and additonal documents needed, to be able to go on the holiday abroad they expect and feel entitled to. Significant numbers of single people particularly want to be able to travel. Understandably many also want to enjoy the potential of meeting someone special, who is from a different place, as they rediscover the joys of staying in another location.

We can see ‘the young’ all across the country raring to go clubbing regardless of their vaccine status. We all thought we were invincible at eighteen and who can blame them after being cooped up for far too long unable to go to the leisure venues they normally frequent. Millions of teenagers and twenty somethings have had their courses disrupted and educational goalposts moved. It is doubtful that the secret for them is to lower their expectations, as they try to visualise and work towards a bright future.

Academic experts and headteachers are always trying to raise the standard and quality of education in the UK. “Low income is a strong predictor of low educational performance” say the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in an extensive report. “Less advantaged children are more likely to feel a lack of control over their learning, and become reluctant recipients of the taught curriculum. This influences the development of different attitudes to education at primary school that help shape their future.” (2)

In this regard striving to achieve the best home and school environment is crucial. In addition, ensuring children have access to the private extra-curricular activities and training tailored to children’s needs is surely worth sacrificing significant time, money and resources for?

Critically reviewing expectations can be a good solution

“Rome wasn’t built in a day” as they say. They also say “Live for your dreams”. Perhaps the answer is to keep hold of your dreams but also to take our time and monitor our effort carefully in trying to achieve them. A trusted managerial science quick check is to consider a SMART acronym that helps analyse and discover if your goals match up to being Specific, Measurable, Realistic and Timely.

Approaching life in little baby steps, when it comes to achieving great things over a longer period can help us in our personal, professional and financial lives. ‘Chunking it out’ in a series of small steps could help us find the sweet point in continuing to grow and develop our potential as adults, whilst also maintaining our calm ‘ataraxia’ and mental health.

Maintaining a focus on preserving a stable home life and signing up for smaller sized projects in our working lives and leisure time can help us succeed in the long run. Getting out in nature and keeping active will ‘help us see the wood from the trees.’ Overachieving can lead to burn out and depression.

Limiting the potentially damaging effects of unintentionally failing in our endeavours, possibly through external factors changing that we couldn’t possibly have any control over, as much as possible, is clever. Accepting that occasionally ‘things just don’t work out’ when external factors cause our plans to be altered and cancelled is a sign of emotional maturity. Taking a balanced approach to our expectations, allows us to enjoy our lives in the most pleasurable and fullest way we can, whilst we all ride the waves of an unpredictable and complex post-pandemic society.


(1) ‘Where the money goes’ the National Lottery, 30 June 2021 ‘Where the money goes’ the National Lottery

(2) ‘Experiences of poverty and educational disadvantage’ the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, September 2007 ‘Experiences of poverty and educational disadvantage’ the Joseph Rowntree Foundation

(3) ‘The secret to happiness in uncertain times? Give up pursuing it’ Bridgid Delaney 17 July 2021 The secret to happiness in uncertain times? Give up pursuing it’ Bridgid Delaney

(4) ‘Danish Culture in Denmark’ FYIDenmark.com, 30 July 2021 ‘Danish Culture in Denmark’ FYIDenmark.com

(5) ‘What is the Living Wage?’ Living Wage.org.uk 30 July 2021 (3) ‘What is the Living Wage?’ Living Wage.org.uk

(6) ‘The Basic State Pension’ UK, Gov.UK, 30 July 2021 ‘The Basic State Pension’ UK, Gov.UK