Home » Happiness Tip: Lower Your Expectations

Happiness Tip: Lower Your Expectations

My father — the most disciplined person I’ve ever known — always quips that his “only goal is to climb a low mountain.” As an over-achieving kid, I never understood this assertion. Why would you only want to climb a low mountain?!

Turns out, low expectations can be a key to happiness. Sometimes we expect too much from our spouses, our children, our jobs, and ourselves. When our expectations are unrealistic, instead of inspiring greatness with the high bar we’ve set, we’re more likely to foster disappointment, or resentment, or even hatred in ourselves.

It’s not that we shouldn’t ever have high expectations; it’s just that we need to be aware of how our expectations can sometimes make us unhappy.

Turns out, low expectations are a key to happiness. Click To Tweet

Take Action: This week, reset an expectation: what is a more realistic and joyful goal? Then, refocus on the journey rather than the destination. What mountain can you climb that you will truly enjoy climbing, whether or not you ever make it to the top? How can you focus on the present moment — whatever you are doing right now — rather than setting big goals and high expectations for the future? And if you are itching to do more, why not get into an unambitious habit that down the road can pay big dividends?



  1. Nicole says:

    Although I totally agree with this post I also wonder in schools sometimes we don’t set it high enough for some kids. How do we find the right balance?

    • Yes, it is always a balance. Perfectionistic kids need to be shown that good enough is good enough. Under-achievers — kids who aren’t engaged, curious, or fulfilling their potential — need to be shown better strategies for engagement usually. Rarely is the answer only in setting high expectations…

  2. Brad Engwall says:

    Thanks for the reminder Christine. This topic reminds me of the “paradoxical effect of praise” Po Bronson describes so well in “Nurture Shock”; that is that when we praise kids for achievement and achievements become the focus of efforts then kids paradoxically achieve less and are more likely to take on projects they think they can easily achieve. This is in contrast to children praised for their efforts who tended to take more risks and, though they may not have excellent results with each project, their overall achievement levels were far greater than the former group. So maybe setting achievable goals and measuring our success in meeting those goals differently: focussing on if we gave a good effort, learned a lesson or made a useful contribution, etc?

    • This is an interesting observation. I’ve written a lot about Carol Dweck’s research on mindsets, which is what you are referring to, in Raising Happiness and on my GGSC blog. I think fostering a growth mindset (which is focusing on effort, or strategies) is, in fact, a very crucial happiness habit, in part because it does focus us on the journey, or the process, rather than the end result. I don’t think it is necessary to lower your expectations, however, in order to foster a growth mindset; this is a common misconception.

  3. asman says:

    Hi , That was a great post.

    But what about people how can you lower your expectations for them, I love my girlfriend a lot and expect her to love me back the same way in return, but unfortunately she is very reserved and iam sure does not feels the same way. How can I lower my expectations about her.

  4. ts says:

    Work colleagues, who I expect more from, make me unhappy. I worry that lowering expectations is not a good outcome for the company, but if this improves my happiness and if senior management are tolerant of lower performance then perhaps I should also be tolerant. my next dilemma is how to lower expectations. do I close my eyes to inefficiencies and mistakes?

  5. Anne says:

    I’ve recently realized that I have extremely high expectations of others, and it is really effecting my life. I was speaking with a coworker and he said, “you need to lower your expectations- then you won’t be disappointed in people!” I thought- wow, maybe he’s got something there! My question is, how do I do this? How can I work on lowering my expectations of myself and others?

    • Imran says:

      I’m in the same boat. I know I need to lower my expectations of everything in my life but just don’t know how :S

      • Christine Carter says:

        This is opening up a whole other can of worms, but often we can use our disappointments in others as tools to see ourselves more clearly. If you haven’t seen Byron Katie’s work, that is the place to start. I will blog more about this, because I think it’s a huge thing for a lot of people…

  6. JeanTracyMSS says:

    Thanks for the great tip, Christine. I think one way to lower our expectations is to realize we are all fallible human beings and to remind ourselves, “I’m not the King of the Universe so things don’t have to go my way.” The reality is that things often don’t.

  7. Rohit Pagey says:

    I feel, Someone I love and value more, I automatically expect more from them. In a way, when I expect more from someone, it is my way to knowing and telling that they are more important to me than others. But if I lower my expectation from someone important, am I bringing them down to the same level as the people who are not important to me?

    In a way, lowering expectations feels like lowering the importance of people in my life. what do you feel?

    • Christine Carter says:

      I’d think what you describe is pretty common. But it’s simply not true that having high expectations for someone can be equated with the depth of the bond or their importance. All of the people who have loved me the most have never expected anything of me; their expectations were not relevant. This is a wonderful kind of love.

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