One word for the opposite of disappointment is happiness.

It’s so simple that there’s even a formula that can easily be photoshopped onto any inspirational picture you want.

Happiness = Expectations – Reality

When reality doesn’t meet your expectations, you’re disappointed.  Easy enough.  The idea is that by lowering your expectations (or at least being more mindful of them) that whatever reality comes your way won’t seem as shocking.

I think expectations are only part of the problem.  And certainly not the root cause.

Here’s a variation on the formula from a Psychology Today article:

Happiness = f (Focusing on opportunities for growth and learning versus on threats and disappointments | Below-expectations event).

The article proposes reacting to events with mindfulness as opposed to just having low expectations.  I think it’s closer, but I still dwell on the reality part.

A New Approach to Happiness (and Money)

Expectations can either be met, exceeded, or not exceeded.  The problem with simply lowering them, or reacting to them with more mindfulness is that our resources (attention, energy, etc) are likely overestimated, distorting our ability to accurately value.  If we can’t accurately value, setting any type of expectation is a shot in the dark, even if it’s purposefully set low.  Humans don’t like the feeling of not knowing.  Feeling that all of the time is far worse to me than the initial shock of learning the true power of your resources and the reality those resources allow you to make.

So what are we valuing?

Our time, energy, skills, and money.  

For those of us who are working, using the Real Hourly Wage tells us everything we need to know.  How much time and energy our jobs take up, what skills we learn (probably mostly job related) and don’t have time for but would like to learn (maybe cooking or DIY), and the actual value of our money.  I often think of the following example:

On the way home from work you decide to get takeout.  In terms of just thinking about your salary it’s easily affordable, quick, and convenient.  However, as you’re sitting on the couch watching Netflix later you read an article about the Real Hourly Wage, and do some quick math, and realize that takeout you just ate was actually twice as expensive as you thought.  Looking around the room you notice the new flatscreen on the wall, new sweatpants you’re wearing, and hear an alert go off on your iPhone7 that breaks your train of thought.  Twenty minutes later (after a round of link-hopping) you return to your original thought and realize everything around you is twice as expensive as you thought.

After the initial wave of disappointment (which wears off as you take action), you think about how you usually work over 50 hours a week, commute an hour each way, spend an hour getting ready in the morning, and come home too tired at night to work on hobbies or do anything but crash on the couch.

You don’t have the time or money that you thought you did.  That alone wouldn’t be so bad if you had the energy and the skills to make more money or give you more time.  It seems so hopeless.

But there’s good news!

Now that you know how to accurately value these resources, any progress or improvements you make will be REAL.  Remember SMART goals?

  • Specific (simple, sensible, significant).
  • Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
  • Achievable (agreed, attainable).
  • Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based).
  • Time bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive).

Failure (and disappointment) are far more likely if we don’t know what resources we have at our disposal because we’re setting goals based on what we think we have – garbage in, garbage out.  So I think that by being more honest and thoughtful with ourselves about what we have to work with, we can set more realistic goals and understand the real reasons we sometimes come up short.

See also: Experts on Value.


2 thoughts on “Disappointment

  1. I was almost scared away by the math here. 😉

    I’ve been plenty disappointed with myself, particularly as we’ve started working towards FIRE. It’s easy to go all-in too quickly on any goal and fizzle out in no time because it wasn’t realistic. I tend to prefer very small goals. If I can successfully complete those, then I can move on to slightly bigger goals. It’s all about baby steps.

    1. Thanks for your comment and for reading!

      I agree! I think there’s a constant struggle when tracking something like New Worth to find a balance between looking at how far away you are from the end goal and being able to see the progress you make just by focusing on baby steps and day to day habits. Financial Independence can seem like a Pass/Fail (you either hit your number or you don’t) when in reality I try to think of it as a journey that gets better the closer you get to “the end”.

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