Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.
So this morning I was riding a bus and I happened to read an op-ed by Eric Weiner in the International Herald Tribune about happiness. The basic thrust of the article (which appeared in Monday’s New York Times) was that Denmark has once again been ranked as “The Happiest Country in the World” according to a Eurobarometer survey. It’s a distinction that this country has held for the last 30 years. The article goes on to argue that the reason that the Danes enjoy such happiness is that they have lower expectations than the rest of us.
Hmmmm. As someone who regularly sets the bar too high in just about everything I do, I had trouble swallowing this at first. But when I thought about it, I realized that Weiner – and the Danes – have a point. After all, lowering your expectations doesn’t mean letting go of your dreams, as Simon James notes in this funny and spot-on post on the Freelance Writing Jobs Network. It just means approaching life with a somewhat different mindset.
In that spirit – and if for no other reason than to knock Denmark off its happiness-survey perch – here are five tips for lowering your expectations:
1. Accept that B+ is OK. Or, if you prefer a baseball analogy: stick to base hits. You don’t need to knock it out of the park every time. I have a good friend who’s a self-employed IT consultant. At one point in her career, she decided to take on more work without increasing her hours so that she could still spend a reasonable amount of time with her kids. “How did you manage that?” I asked. “I don’t deliver A level work all the time anymore. I finally realized that B+ is OK.” I thought about that comment for years. Which brings us to…
2. Realize that No One Cares. I think that many of us harbor this sense that the world is watching – and judging – every last decision that we make. I myself walk around with a panel of elders – a semi-circle of aging wise men who collectively monitor my every move. But the hard truth, folks, is that most people don’t give a sh$# what you do with your life. They’re too wrapped up in their own lives to bother with yours. And once you realize that no one’s watching, you can ease up a bit on yourself.
3. Recognize that Happiness May Be Fleeting. Another way to say this is that sh#$ happens and you can’t control much of what comes your way. The Danes themselves apparently temper their “happiest” status with the expression “lige nu” which means something like “for now.” When you embrace happiness as a scarce commodity, it enables you to enjoy what you have right now instead of always reaching for the next frontier.
4. Imagine the Worst Case Scenario. Sometimes, when I’m really freaking out because I fear that I’ve failed to achieve one of my goals, I imagine the worst possible thing that could befall me in that arena. And when I do that, I usually realize that I haven’t hit rock bottom and consequently appreciate whatever it is I have accomplished, even if it falls below what I wanted. Case in point: I’ve written a novel. But, so far, I haven’t managed to sell it. The worst case scenario is that I’ll never sell it. And that would really suck. But then I remind myself that unlike two years ago, I’m no longer talking about writing a novel anymore. I’ve actually done it. And I feel a bit better.
5. Move to Denmark. If all else fails, move to Copenhagen. I hear they have excellent pastries.
Image: Morning Buns by Cacaobug via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.