The feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations.


letdown – frustration – chagrin – disillusionment

Ever feel that way? Ever not feel that way?

Disappointment, I’m afraid, is just part of life. I just had a phone conversation with my son who is trying to secure additional student loan funding for a summer course and a planned transfer to another school. Unfortunately, due to many prior disappointments in life, the funding was denied and he is extremely disappointed. His “Plan A” is just not going to be possible. We talked for a while about alternate plans, other possible scenarios for summer and fall and for completing his college education. And we talked about disappointment.

Sometimes it’s pretty hard to believe that our natural state is one of happiness. How are we to be happy all the time if we constantly face disappointment? Disappointment is, really, nearly a daily occurrence, in one way or another. And the very definition of disappointment is “a feeling of sadness”, in direct contradiction with happiness, our supposed natural state. It’s all rather disappointing, isn’t it?

We need to separate disappointment, the feeling of sadness, from happiness, our natural state. Though seemingly related, as feelings or emotions, and in direct opposition, truly, one does not negate the possibility of the other. If you are, generally, very happy, it is perfectly natural, ordinary and commonplace to have some disappointment. If we are disappointed for one reason or another, it does not in any way prevent us from experiencing happiness overall.

Disappointment, again, by definition, is caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations. Disappointment is not defined as the removal of happiness from your life. If your hopes or expectations are not fulfilled you just need to regroup and focus on a different hope or expectation, if not a different method to attain the original. Nonfulfillment of a hope or an expectation is rarely permanent.  Disappointment is temporary. Disappointment doesn’t erase your hope or your expectation; it just means you’ll have to find another way to fulfill it. Disappointment, if you get creative with it, is a catalyst for, well, creativity. So, if “plan A” doesn’t work and you are disappointed, use that energy to draft another couple of plans that may move you in the same general direction as the original plan.

As to happiness, our natural state; happiness is permanent, it is organic, and it is easily accessible to anyone. Happiness is nothing more than living in the present. Now. Period. If it is so simple to have permanent, lasting happiness, why does the world seem filled with misery? Because no one lives in the present. Now. Period. Don’t dwell on the past, don’t fret over the future, live each and every moment focusing on the present. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have hopes and expectations, but that you should not be so focused on the future that you are missing the opportunities, in the present, to take action and move forward towards the future, towards your hopes and expectations.

We must have goals. We must have goals that align with our values. Goals that align with our values provide us with guiding principles. Guiding principles are what we use, in the present, to move us towards our goals without being totally myopic about the future. Simple.

So, when disappointment strikes, how do we cope? Again, keep in mind that disappointment, the nonfulfillment of hopes and expectations, is related to the course of action, or plan, that failed. The hopes and expectations are still there. Using your goals, aligned with your values, following your guiding principles, take one step in the direction of your hope or expectation, right now. If that one step is creating a new plan, a new timeline, a new budget, identifying a new resource, it is an action, taken in the present, that may advance you towards the eventual fulfillment of your hopes or expectations. Make sense?

As to the timeline we apply to our hopes and expectations; has anyone, ever, been able to control time? Never. We only ever hope to learn to manage it. As a general guide, a timeline is nice, but in a world of infinite variables, a hard and fast timeline for every goal is never practical and has us doing what? Focusing on points in the future, with stress and anxiety, rather than focusing on the present with peace and clarity.

There is a bit of a trick, though, when your hopes or expectations involve others. Disappointment due to the actions or inactions of other people are completely out of our control. And this comes down to your goals, your values, your guiding principles and living in the present. If your hope or expectation is to have a lasting, loving relationship with a specific person, you are attaching your hopes and expectations to a person you have no way of controlling. And, to make matters worse, seeking to control that person is more likely to cause the relationship to fail than not. This is true for just about anything where your hopes or expectations rely on the performance of another person or people. Adjust for it. Instead of stating your goal “I want so and so to love me forever, to be faithful and true, passionate and caring, for as long as we live” you might just state your goal as “I am lovable, I am loved, I am loving”. The specifics will follow in a more natural and fulfilling manner once you achieve the very general. You cannot control the “who”, you cannot always control the “when” or the “how” but you can control the “what”, and it should all be based on the appropriate “why”.

Have you ever heard someone say “be careful what you pray for?” Sometimes in praying or asking for very specific things, with energy and intent, we get them, and all their hidden or undesired consequences. For my whole life, I wanted a ranch. When a rare but risky opportunity presented itself, I prayed and prayed and prayed to somehow, some way, be able to “get the ranch”. Not “a ranch”, but “that ranch”. Through miracles and very creative mortgage financing, my hopes and expectations came true. With a change in the economy and the deterioration of my husband’s already lacking work ethic and motivation, the dream ranch became impossible to sustain on only my income. It became a nightmare, not the dream. And eventually, it was lost. The pain and the lesson all reinforced in my mind the fact that you need to be very careful in what you pray for. General is better than specific. Take steps towards it in the present and make sure it aligns with your goals, values and guiding principles. Creative mortgage financing, in hindsight, was not in alignment with my goals, values and guiding principles.

For my son, the hope or expectation that he was going to obtain financing, today, requiring a willing and qualified co-signer, in order to attend a specific summer course in his field of study, at a specific time, so he can then move before the fall term to another state, to advance his studies in order to affect a transfer to yet another school that would provide him leverage on admission to the graduate program of his dreams, all may have been a little to specific. The goal is to attend the graduate program of his dreams and that hasn’t changed. The timeline, the budget and the path have. The nonfulfillment is temporary, the goal has permanence.

The means to an end. Is it the means that matter, or the end? Are there not a million ways to reach the end? More than one mean? Of course. With the happiness of living in the present as our energy, fueled by meaningful goals, aligned with our values, creating our guiding principles, we can venture down as many paths as are necessary to fulfill our hopes or expectations. Furthermore, each path we venture down will also broaden our experiences, an added benefit.

So my son and I talked about disappointment today. I said, “if everyone got their “plan A”, we’d all be ….” and I struggled for the right words to express my thought. My son completed my thought perfectly, he said “we’d be weak.” In disappointment, we have the opportunity to find the strength and the means, and often, the very strength and means required to fulfill our hopes and expectations.

Goals. Values. Guiding principles. Now. Period.



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