Wednesday, September 03, 2014

2302 Expect Less

Many years ago, somewhere between my second and third divorces, (I believe I've mentioned elsewhere that I've successfully completed three marriages) someone asked me the secret of the happiness that I had at the time apparently found in my third connubial go-round.
I said, "The secret is pretty simple, keep your expectations low."

So I was particularly interested recently when I read an article that science has now said the same thing. Except in their case, it's the secret to happiness generally. 

Forget self-help books. Tell your psychologist to take a hike. Scientists at University College London have unequivocally proven that the secret to happiness is low expectations. People who don't expect much from life are more content and get greater pleasure when things go well. 

For the study, the researchers hooked up volunteers and scanned their brains as they played a game. They found that the degree of happiness players felt when they won a reward depended on how much their reward matched up to their expectations. The lower the expectations, the happier they were. 

So it follows that in the real world, people with low expectations get greater pleasure from receiving a gift, having a delicious meal, or going on vacation. As researcher and neuroscientist Robb Rutledge concluded, "Happiness depends not on how well things are going, but whether things are going better or worse than expected." 

Or as other great thinkers have put it, it pays to be a pessimist. Pessimists are always happier than optimists. When things actually go better, they are pleasantly surprised. 

Newlyweds take note. Keep your expectations low. Yes, the honeymoon's over. But as another great person said: "The glass isn't half empty or half full. There was just too much glass there to begin with."  

America, ya gotta love it. 

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