Setting realistic expectations has beneficial effects



Written By Naina Murthy

Ever since I was little, my parents have ingrained in me the phrase “expect the unexpected.” They believed that I needed to be prepared for anything because they knew life was never black and white. But as time passed, the problem I often encountered was that I had too many big expectations, which often left me disappointed when I did not reach what I thought I could. Through the many tumultuous days and nights filled with high expectations, I started to develop a method of making realistic expectations and changing my perception. Accepting the fact that not everything goes my way has helped me develop a better sense of happiness in many aspects of my life.

I only recently reached this realization—that it is better to try and have realistic expectations. For as long as I can remember I have had this growing expectation of what I wanted my life to look like, especially when it came to my future career. Before the beginning of junior year, I wanted to pursue biology. In order to realize that dream, I signed up for Advanced Placement (AP) Biology. I was so excited when I started the class because I had high expectations that this one class would reinforce my dream to study biology in college. But as AP Biology progressed I started to see that this was not what I wanted to do, which really scared me. Biology was something I thought I wanted to do my whole life. I had high hopes that this would be it. I soon realized that was the problem. I expected so much from the class that when it wasn’t what I expected, I no longer enjoyed it as much as I thought I would. From that experience, I decided I would try my hardest to maintain realistic expectations.

According to Professor Wolfram Schultz at Cambridge University, a link exists between dopamine levels in our brain and the expectations we make. When someone has low expectations and something good happens, a lot of dopamine is released, which results in feeling happy. But when someone has high expectations and she doesn’t reach those expectations, dopamine levels fall drastically, leading to a feeling of unhappiness.

Having realistic expectations allows people to accept the possibility of a bad outcome and prepares us to be okay with whatever happens. When we reduce our number of unrealistic expectations we are able to maximize happiness. When we have unrealistic expectations we put ourselves in a place where we risk immense disappointment. It is important that we remain aware of reality and find what we can actually expect in others and in ourselves. Achievable expectations are more likely to result in positive outcomes because they are easier to attain. Being able to alter what you expect can have a huge impact on your daily moods.

Maintaining realistic expectations is easier said than done. But being aware that things won’t always turn out the way you hope is part of life. Preparing yourself to accept that fact is already a huge step in the right direction. It is important to remain ready to fulfill your goals, but remember to keep them within reach. It is better to have realistic expectations and exceed those than to be left utterly disappointed.

—Murthy, a senior, is a Lifestyle Editor.