These expectations of what is true and what will be true are the product of the stories we tell ourselves about our lives. They are not the same as what is actually happening.
Our internal stories are essential. I'm not suggesting that we can or should rid ourselves of our stories, only that we realize we have constructed them, often with a minimum of tangible information.
I'm 64. My story is that I should have perfect health. I don't. One of the things I have been told is that I have arthritis in my knees. Occasionally I feel some pain. The pain is mild most of the time. My story about having perfect health imagines things I should be able to do things like ski. This one is particularly amusing because I don't like heights, I don't like to be cold and I don't like to go fast. So what about skiing would I actually like? But I think I should be able to do it! Then I tell myself a story of knee problems, of eventual surgery, a scary story about knee replacement surgery and of difficulties with surgery because of the stroke I had several years ago. When I spin these stories I stew in a cauldron of disappointment, recrimination and regret, feeling dismay that my life is not what I think it should be and that it might turn out to be something awful. I suffer.
None of the things in either of my stories is bothering me now. I'm certainly not trying to ski. I am sitting in a chair writing this article. My knees don't hurt sitting down. I have no surgery even suggested, much less ordered.
What if I modified the story that my health should be perfect and the story that I might face some great medical difficulty and simply examined and lived with my health just as it is? What if, instead, I paid close attention to what I can do and how I can do it, strengthening my knees and wisely keeping myself active? The arthritis is still there. There may be some discomfort from time to time when I walk, but the dismay disappears. And as a bonus, my health improves, further altering my scary story of the future.
This same thing is true for our expectations of the holidays. We have seen many images of what a "perfect" holiday should be: loving families without problems, loving friends without hidden agendas, warmth and comfort and security, and lots of presents that are precisely what we want. Many of us, telling ourselves we should have this exact experience, are disappointed when our expectations are not met and go on to imagine that we are unloved and that our lives will be difficult. We suffer.
There may be joy right in front of us that we don't notice because we are convinced that if our experience does not live up to the expectations we bring to the holiday, it's not good enough to enjoy what we do have. We miss our opportunity for the delights that are available when we focus on imagined delights that are not available. Allowing ourselves some perspective on our stories and our resulting expectations can be liberating.
Gaining perspective on our expectations also can help us with the other kind of holiday suffering that comes to mind: loneliness. As a species we are built to affiliate - to make connections with other human beings and with other species.
It's part of our brain structure, a biological drive, to seek connections and to build our lives in the context of other beings. Lack of that connection can be exacerbated by our stories of what should be.
When we are caught up in the cauldron of our expectations, we become further isolated. Focusing on our suffering, we push people away. We become self-absorbed, close our hearts to seeing how we might connect with another human being in this moment, and miss the comfort the connection could bring.
I was in a grocery store a few days ago. A woman ahead of me in a motorized chair was trying to see if she had enough money to buy what she wanted and needed, keeping some things, sending some things back, checking prices. Her determinations took quite a while. If I had been stewing in stories about what should happen in a checkout line and what would happen if I did not hurry, I would have missed the possibility of interacting with this woman.
As it was, we had a lovely, joyous meeting in which she told me she had lost 50 pounds, reversed the beginning of diabetes and intended to lose more weight. Her sharing the story with me made a tender human connection between the two of us. The warmth of those few minutes in the grocery store is one of the high points of my holiday season.
Article Source: psychologytoday.com