Why Expectation is the Root of All Heartache


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

The title of this blog, sometimes attributed to Shakespeare, is not necessarily a negative thought. Whether Shakespeare wrote that “expectation is the root of all heartache” or not is still up for debate, but whoever said it, there is some truth in the statement.

The trouble with expectations is that our happiness is then influenced by things we don’t have, may never have, and wouldn’t have missed if we hadn’t come to expect them.

The book Engineering Happiness offers us this formula: happiness equals reality minus expectations. In other words, raise expectations beyond reality’s capacity to meet them and disappointment, frustration, and misery follows.

Given that formula, we can either improve our reality or lower our expectations. Most of us choose the former. We’d prefer to churn in our wretchedness than lessen our expectations. Lowering our sights feels like a cop out. We figure it’s better to be a bunch of miserable overachievers than content slackers.

Unfortunately, we tend to overestimate the importance of life circumstances on our happiness. For example, we may think if we were rich, lost weight, retired and traveled around the world, got rid of all our wrinkles, scored that job promotion, or owned a luxurious house, we’d be happier. The truth is chasing and expecting to accomplish these goals – which may be impossible – can actually make us less happy. Even if we were able to achieve these objectives, we still may not be content. For example, people who suddenly come into extreme wealth, whether because of an inheritance, insurance settlement, or a lottery win, rarely find happiness.

In addition, high expectations can turn us into perfectionists, which is exhausting, unrelenting, and unachievable. Who wants that? When we let go of expectation, we free ourselves from disappointment, regret, disillusionment, and heartache.  We invite feelings of gratitude. A whole new world opens up to us, with adventurous opportunities we hadn’t even imagined.

How about expecting the unexpected instead? Reach for your goals, but remember that life sometimes throws you a curve ball. And remember not to make your aspirations and dreams so high they are impractical or unreachable.


Julie A. Gorges is the author of two young adult novels, Just Call Me Goody Two Shoes and Time to Cast Away and co-author of Residential Steel Design and Construction published by McGraw Hill. In addition, hundreds of her articles and short stories have been published in national and regional magazines, and she received three journalism awards from the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association while working as a newspaper reporter. Julie currently lives in southern California with her husband, Scott, and has two grown children and three grandchildren.

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