Expectation and Hope

Expectation is the root of all heartache.” Google this quote and William Shakespeare is given credit for having said it first. (Not very old English sounding, is it?) Regardless of its origins, a similar sentiment can be found in Buddhist teachings and Chinese philosophy.  From our own experiences, we know how disappointments can make us miserable and, indeed, lead to heartache.  And yet, ridding oneself of expecting certain outcomes and behaviors is no easy task.

Leaving Home

I know individuals who don’t travel because of the risk of things not going well.  When you shell out a chunk of change you want a guarantee, right?  Unfortunately, life doesn’t come with guarantees or warranties. In April, I booked a relatively inexpensive flight to the lovely island of Kauai.  I was looking forward to a week of aloha.  A few weeks before departure, I started monitoring weather forecasts –not good.  Rain was predicted every day.  I searched for some indoor activities including museums, shops, and the like.  I knew hiking would be extra muddy so I looked for paved trails.

The second night we arrived, the heavy rain surprised even the locals and continued for 24 hours with lightning, thunder and, ultimately, epic flooding.  The bridge to the town a few miles to the north of us closed; people were trapped and had to be rescued by helicopter. Homes were lost.  And yet, I had a really lovely time. I wasn’t expecting Hawaiian sun and surf and I was not disappointed.

No Expectation/Low Expectation

If only I could apply that same abandon of expectation to my daily life. Frankly, I’ve sometimes been perplexed by the concepts of lack of expectation, low expectation, hopefulness and hopelessness.  Lack of expectation is not the same as low expectation, I understand.  Using my Hawaii vacation example, had I begun my journey with low expectations, I would have looked for evidence to support a gloomy time. Instead I headed outside regardless of the weather and rejoiced in sun breaks.  Without expectation, each day was a new adventure, rain or shine.

Most of us realize that to expect others to behave as we wish is a sure route to misery.  (Oh, how we anguish when our partners fail to love us the way we want, drivers are rude, strangers litter, our supervisors ignore our talents, and the list goes on.) On the other hand, expecting others to be jerks leads to depression and despair. To abandon all expectation of others is a difficult but worthy goal.

Unlike expectation, hope is a feeling of trust or desire.  On my vacation, I hoped for clear skies but I didn’t expect the sun to suddenly shine or, for that matter, the rain to continue unabated. 

Taking Risks

The feeling of hope allows us to take risks and make changes.  We trust that whatever happens, we will be able to cope.  Hopelessness, on the other hand, is a lack of trust that we’ll prosper, be happy, peaceful, content, etc.  Most of us make decisions based on hope or lack of hope.

We may change careers or jobs with the hope that we will feel more fulfilled. Or we stay in an unhappy situation at work or at home because we believe, on some level, that nothing better awaits us.

Just Do It

To hope that we have a life of purpose and joy is different than expecting a certain outcome from our decisions.  The Chinese philosopher, Lao-Tzu said that we must act without expectation.  Following that wisdom, we must trust that whatever the outcome of our actions, we will survive and thrive.