Expectations (part 1)

I find it interesting that how we feel about an event is affected by our expectations of that event.

How would you feel if your employer gave you $1000 as a year-end bonus? As a co-op student (and we almost never get bonuses), I would be delightfully surprised and thankful because I had not expected a bonus. However, if I were a stock trader who normally receives $25 000 year-end packages, I would feel disappointed and even offended because I had expected a higher bonus. In both cases, we receive extra money but our expectations change how we perceive the money: to take it happily or to be offended.

How does it make sense that the stock trader felt disappointed even though he (or she) still received free money, albeit being less than what he had expected? Why do our expectations change our feelings towards events?

 I think one reason we feel disappointed when the reality is different from our expectations is because we come to believe that our expectations will be the future reality. If you expect yourself to become rich, then you must believe that you’ll become rich. If you expect it to be sunny tomorrow, then you believe there is a high probability that tomorrow will be sunny. In other words, our expectations come from our beliefs, which creates our understanding of reality. When life clashes with our understanding of reality, we may feel several emotions:

  • surprise; life’s reality is different from ours when we were so sure that ours were right

  • fear; our model of reality might be wrong and sometimes we also fear that our views on other parts of reality might also be wrong

  • frustration; what we had thought was true turned out to be false and we had wasted energy in our belief

Because the stock trader normally received $25 000 bonuses in the past, he likely felt that receiving less meant that he lost something he deserved. He had become so used to receiving $25 000 that he believed it was his right to receive that amount and saw it as something that he should receive and was his, as a salary instead of a bonus.

 How do we apply to our lives the fact that our expectations change our feelings about events? I will think about this question and will post my thoughts in the next post. In the meantime, enjoy your week!

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