Gratitude, Reflections

Expectations and Gratitude

“The days that I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations, I have really good days.” Ray Wylie Hubbard

This was posted on The Hammock Papers today and it literally took my breath away when I read it.

One of the things I struggle with most is my expectations – of how things should be, of what other people should do and how they should be, and of myself – and my reactions when those expectations aren’t met.

The self-inflicted hurt of unmet expectations has had a particularly corrosive affect on my marriage over many years, and this is at the top of my list of things to work on.

I’ve found a quote from Johanne Wolgang von Goethe to be particularly helpful in this quest – so much so that I write it in the front of every journal as I start a new one to remind me of its message:

“I have come to the frightening conclusions that I am the decisive element.  It is my personal approach that makes the climate.  It is my daily mood that makes the weather.  I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous, I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of  inspiration.  I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.  In all situations it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and person is humanized or de-humanized.  If we treat people as they are, we make them worse.  If we treat people as they ought to be, we make them become what they are capable of becoming.”

This has proven true time and time again, and never more true than when I reflect on how I react when my expectations aren’t met.  When I react in hurt and anger, I escalate the situation and make myself and everyone else involved miserable.  In treating people as they are (at least as seen through the distorted filter of my expectations), I make them worse.

When Don does not meet my (almost always unreasonable) expectations I’ve been trying to develop a practice of taking a deep breath, putting things into context by asking myself if it will matter in five years (or even five weeks or days or minutes), and then reminding myself that whatever it is, he didn’t do it on purpose, and consciously thinking about all the things that I love and appreciate about him.  This helps we me see him as he is capable of being, and I can almost feel the pressure being lifted from both of us.

This sounds straightforward, but it is really hard to put into practice.  It’s even harder when I am tired, frazzled, and stressed, which pretty much describes my life these days…and harder still by the reality that sometimes what used to be reasonable expectations are no longer reasonable as Don ages.  Suffice it to say I fail more often than I succeed.

Thanks to Mr. Hubbard I have a new mantra.  When I start to get angry or hurt that something or someone hasn’t met my expectations I’m going try to remind myself to “keep my gratitude higher than my expectations.”  I’m pretty sure that if I can do that, we too will have some really good days ahead.


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