Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Greatest Christmas Party That Never Was – Dissecting Disappointment

Well thanks to the record-setting blizzard that struck the Northeast this Saturday, I had to cancel a holiday party that five friends and I have spent the last six months planning. With time and expenses, we’re out thousands of dollars. But most upsetting of all, we don’t get to enjoy the fruits of our labor – our friends having an amazing time, the unveiling of an incredibly intricate and creative multi-media production, and the satisfaction of pulling off something that was little more than a ridiculous, far-fetched idea in June. As I write this, I should be at the party right now – enjoying a drink and being in the midst of over a hundred people having a hell of a time. All in all, everything really sucks right now. And the worst part is I have no idea how to handle this type of extreme disappointment. I really thought I had a decent understanding of my own psyche because of my vast consumption of philosophical and psychological readings (I say this as a self-deprecating reflection on my hubris). However, as of right now, I can’t seem to apply a single damn thing I’ve read. I feel like a spoiled child who wants to run home and cry to mommy so she can rub my head and tell me everything will get better…

After 12 hours of wallowing in self-pity, the only thing I can realize is that I’m experiencing unfulfilled expectations. Our expectations can make or break us. I’ve always appreciated this idea but it's inherent truth never fully hit me until tonight. Because my expectations were so drastically unfulfilled, I’m utterly miserable. I’ve entered a temporary state of depression that has nearly brought me to tears a few times today. My pathetic condition makes me think about a talk by Psychologist Barry Schwartz on TED I recently watched. Barry asserts that the secret to happiness is low expectations. He argues that our expectations in modern, western society are too high and constantly not being met (and thus we’re very unhappy). We expect so much and rarely get to experience a “pleasant surprise.” Kind of makes sense, huh? When I originally listened to this talk I appreciated his insight but more or less scoffed at his conclusion. Tonight though, his thesis cuts right to the bone.

Overall, I’m not sure if I completely agree with the idea of lowering your expectations just to avoid disappointed; to me, it’s like settling or not striving to be your best. But I am curious about your thoughts on the conclusion of Barry’s talk. Do you truly think we should lower our expectations to be happier? Or should we keep shooting for the stars and learn how to better manage disappointment? I really crave your insight into this matter right now so please let me know your thoughts – think of it as rubbing my head and telling me everything will get better.

Tom Murtaugh

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  1. Tom, first of all, I know how much this party means to you - my sincerest empathy for your diappointment and not being able to see it through (yet).

    I say "yet" because perhaps the fact that the party didn't happen will lead to an amazing other aspect (or party) in your life that comes from it.

    I think the key is to be open to surprises and find strength to deal with disappointments so that you don't react to it (too much ...). Challenges can be tough.

    I believe that although lowering your expectations is one way to deal with life (I am sure it is a handy tool at times). At the same time, I have to agree with you that if you lower expectations you are not necessarily striving for excellence and the danger is a sequence of somewhat satisfying mediocrity?

    Is there anyway this amazing party can be rescheduled (I saw the u-tube video)?

  2. Thanks, Raymond! You're completely right, better things to come without doubt!