The secret to a life of joy and serenity is to trade expectations for acceptance. Much time can be spent (and really, I mean wasted) by complaining about the ruts in the road until you realize, in fact, that the ruts are the road. If there is any difference at all between the way things are and the way you expect them to be, that becomes the gap between you and your peace of mind. As long as you think things should be different than they are, you set yourself up for disappointment.
Be realistic about the past. Robert Holden says that if you want any chance at all to be happy in the present, you have to give up all hope for a better past. Things cannot be different now unless the past was also different. So, what are the chances of that?
Most of us have notoriously warped memories of the past. You can test this by asking a sibling or childhood friend about an event in which you both participated or witnessed. Compare how similar your recollection of the event is as well as your feelings or emotions surrounding it. It may be hard to believe that the two of you were both actually there!
Be relentlessly aware of the present. More currently, think of a situation in your life that irks you. Maybe something or someone gets under your skin, pushes your button, or rides your last nerve. That’s usually a good place to start because there lays the core belief that circumstances should be different than they are. Applying old beliefs to new situations can be very frustrating.
Where do these beliefs come from? Looking back, there are countless examples of things that family and society have deemed should or should not happen that have little or no basis in truth. For example, people lose their jobs after many faithful years of service, children get sick, spouses cheat, and you deserve a reward for good behavior. Herein lies an innate sense of fairness that we are not actually entitled to. Life is not fair, until it is.
On some level we know this but when it hits too close to home, we want to be the exception to the rule when in actuality there are no exceptions. Accepting that these things happen as a part of life shows us that we are not exempt from life happening to us and more importantly, for us.
Be infinitely open to the future. A wise person once told me that the key to happiness is in managing your expectations. Why not have no expectations at all? Then you can never be disappointed. Judgment ceases. You learn to always take what you get and work with it instead of paralyzing yourself over what isn’t. Like it or not, what is is always what’s best.
Setting expectations says to the world that you know best how things should turn out. Just as two people can differently interpret a past experience, they can also hold different hopes for the future. Therefore, expectations conflict before we even get started. They close the door to previously unimagined outcomes and while that may seem scary at first, think of the possibilities!
Expectations also telegraph to the world how, specifically, to ruin your day. When you draw the line in the sand by saying, “I want this, not that.” you clearly state the way in which someone can let you down. And what is that, really, but handing over your power to them and saying, “Here. I allow your behavior to determine my mood.”
Trading expectations for acceptance says, “Okay, I’m in.” It edges out denial as a means of protecting yourself from having to face reality. It releases the past from creeping into the present. And instead of resigning yourself to circumstances as they are, acceptance actually empowers you to face the world for all that it is and all that you are in it. Resisting takes the joy and serenity out of life while accepting puts it back in.