Is the secret to happiness to have low expectations?

‘Refuse to allow yourself to have low expectations about what you are capable of creating’

~ Wayne Dyer

People with high expectations can be easily disappointed. Those that have lower expectations can be more easily satisfied. This can result in greater happiness. This is the logic behind thinking that people with lower expectations are more happy. I’m not totally convinced by this.

I don’t fully buy into this concept. I think we might be confusing the satisfaction felt from a low expectation being met, with resignation that live is mediocre.

In my opinion, having low expectations will not bring us happiness, at best it might help us avoid some unhappiness. We might avoid disappointment from holding our expectations too high, but it can come at the cost of feeling disappointed with what we are achieving in our lives.

Expectations can range from overly optimistic, to absolutely discouraging.


We will achieve everything we set our minds to, don’t settle for any less. We should have great things in our life, aim high.


Don’t get our hopes up. We can’t change things. We have to accept things as they are.

If we are highly optimistic, but then we don’t achieve something we set out to, we may feel bitterly disappointed that our expectations were not met. If we feel discouraged, our expectations may at times even be surpassed, but they were so low in the first place that it may not be enough to bring us happiness. Or it may bring momentary mild happiness, but not the long lasting satisfying kind.

Should we lower our expectations to bring happiness into our lives?

Low expectations bring about low achievement

If we dream low we will most likely achieve low. Do we want to aim for mediocracy? Ralph Marston quotes ‘Don’t lower your expectation to meet your performance. Raise your level of performance to meet your expectations.’

Expectations impact happiness even before an outcome

Bear in mind that expectations can affect happiness even before we get to the outcome. For example if we book a holiday, our positive expectations about how good it is going to be may increase our happiness as soon as it is booked, not only when we are there. Many people report to experience increased happiness in the anticipation and build up to something rather than when they are actually there in the moment. If we lower our expectations too much we may miss out on this feeling.

Beware the fairytale view of the world

If we have a rose tinted, positive view of the world there is a strong chance we could feel let down when things do not live up to these expectations. There is an element of realism needed here. If we constantly believe things will turn out as they do in the movies, we may be in for a stark realization that this will not be the case. This is less about lowering expectations and more about being realistic about fairytale endings.

Aim rather than expect

There is a subtle difference here on ‘aiming’ rather than ‘expecting’. Expecting lends itself to thinking that things will come to us with ease, with little effort needed on our part. Aiming is about having a vision, taking action and realizing our goals. The main difference is about the action we take to make things happen. It’s about not take things for granted, but making a plan to execute them.

In conclusion if we avoid having either high or low expectations, and instead focus on having no expectations, it can help prevent any disappointment. If we change our view to aiming high, but not expecting things to come to us without requiring any effort, we can achieve more. The most satisfying feeling is having an ambitious goal and achieving that goal. Much better than expecting less from life and feeling satisfied that we were correct in our thinking that was all we deserve.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this in the comments below.


  1. Plato Socrates Aristotle May 24, 2017 at 4:34 am #

    Your potential employer asks you “Where do you expect to be in a few years time?”. How do you answer that if you have no expectations. As far as you’re concerned answering “I expect to be the president of the USA” and “I expect to be working at a minimum wage job and struggling to pay my bills” have no difference since neither is what you expect and neither is being completely honest. You cannot not have expectations because happiness is defined by them


    • Mel Johnson May 27, 2017 at 6:08 am #

      I agree with you in the fact that we shouldn’t lower our expectations to try to find more happiness, but I think it is more about having goals that we are trying to achieve rather than high expectations. Setting goals is a more action oriented approach, whereas I feel that expectations is a more passive approach.


      • Plato Socrates Aristotle May 28, 2017 at 7:08 pm #

        Yeah, I get what you mean but as human beings, we will all in all likelihood fail to achieve most if not all the goals/images we set for ourselves. I think that is where the vast majority of unhappiness originates from in the first place. I think happiness and expectation is slowly becoming a risk reward problem where if you have high goals and aspirations, you are more likely to achieve more but also more likely to feel great disappointments when you don’t. Whereas when you lower your expectations, you will almost certainly achieve less but will also have lower risk of suffering through disappointments since you never expected to achieve anymore. In essence high reward comes with high risk and low risk comes with low reward. You can’t always get the best of both worlds


        • Mel@bestselfology May 31, 2017 at 5:05 am #

          When you say ‘we will all in all likelihood fail to achieve most if not all the goals/images we set for ourselves.’ maybe it is about reframing how we set these goals, so we are not failing at them.

          If we feel like we have failed to achieve most of our goals, as you say we will most definitely feel major disappointment.

          If you can set more of a vision for yourself or a direction for your life and feel like you are taking steps towards that vision, and you can accept things might look different or might not be exactly as you initially intended, I think you can still aim high, but not feel like you have failed or not achieved a specific goal, but that you are heading in the right direction making progress.

          I think each individual is probably different. If setting goals then not achieving them makes you feel unhappy, you are totally correct, it is probably not the best approach for you. For many others, setting goals and then making progress towards them brings much happiness. Maybe the key is understanding where you get your happiness from and following that approach.

          Thanks for taking the time to comment. 🙂


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