Expectations and Happiness
As we all know, the holiday season is fast approaching, and with it comes certain challenges. Many come from a consumer culture that has been created through an onslaught of images, idols, and ideals; generally focused on material possessions and appearances.
The holidays have the potential to be a time of gratitude, giving, and celebrating love and community. It may even be worth not shopping for others if it causes too much stress! There are so many ways we can express our love and show our appreciation and devotion to the ones we love, without it feeling like an obligation, both to the giver and to the receiver. Quality time together is my favorite way to share with those I love; giving them the attention and presence often missing in these fast-paced times.
It’s interesting to consider how expectation can be at the root of suffering. When we have an idea, ideal, or the perfect holiday gift we hope to receive and we do not get it, it causes disappointment. Just as holistic medicine encourages us to look at the root of the problem rather than the symptom and utilize preventative activities to sustain optimal health, we can also use this same tactic for our emotional life when we suffer.
If we recognize that an expectation—such as a perfect family gathering with no fighting, or our partner expressing their love in just the way we want—doesn’t do anything for us when it is not fulfilled but cause disappointment or even anger and resentment. We can make a choice. We can choose to love the people around us for who they are and have gratitude for what is working in our lives, and leave it at that.
Tendencies towards feelings of inadequacy rising in our culture is rooted in advertising, entertainment, and mass marketing. It is good to remember that the motivation behind the marketing is actually profit, not our well-being. When people begin to compare themselves to others, to movies, TV shows, rich and famous celebrities and other media images, they become more vulnerable to their influence. This is done consciously to increase sales. An insecure person is more likely to buy more and more things to try and create the image of confidence and security they see on the screen. Remember, these images aren’t real: they are designed to manipulate consumers.
What is real is what is around us, what we work for, and what we build with others through time. Our giving is real; our love is real. Giving our attention, respect, and love to someone who needs it can put us in a wonderful place: it helps us to remember that we are all brothers and sisters, all children of God. As I discussed in last month’s column, our volition, our free will, can be used to harmonize our lives.
Making the effort to live without outer expectations can be one of the best ways to avoid pain and disappointment. This can be particularly helpful during the holidays with family gatherings. That is true unconditional love, the reason for the season.