Is managing our expectations the key to happiness? That was the tagline to an article from the British newspaper The Guardian, shared on Facebook by Gateway Women.
"How can happiness be influenced by things we don't have, were never going to have, and wouldn't have missed, if the thought hadn't occurred?" asks the writer Oliver Burkeman.
His conclusion is that "happiness equals reality minus expectations. Raise expectations beyond reality's capacity to meet them, and misery follows."
Burkeman connects his theory to the millennial generation, trying to reconcile the inflated expectations they grew up with (thanks to their baby boomer parents, for whom things turned out pretty well, overall) with the current economic reality. And as I read (of course), I couldn't help but think about the subject of inflated expectations and the ALI world -- particularly in the context of my own niche in the community -- those of us living childless/free after infertility &/or loss, whose hopes & expectations were raised by ARTs but ultimately dashed.
I've written about expectations before, although perhaps not in so many words. Infertility might be a little different in terms of Burkeman's "things we wouldn't have missed, if the thought hadn't occurred." I mean, even among people who ultimately decide that they really don't want children -- how can the thought of having children NOT at least occur to us, given societal expectations and the current worship of all things pregnancy, baby and mommy-related in magazines, ads, TV shows, movies, etc. etc.?
For those of us who have difficulty fulfilling those expectations of having a family, the proliferation of ARTs, the continuing advancements, combined with the headlines about women giving birth in their late 40s & 50s (whether with their own eggs, the articles often don't say, but that's another matter...), have served to inflate our expectations of what's possible through science-- not just our own expectations, but (perhaps even more so) those of the people around us, who so badly want to see us happy -- want us to have what they have so easily -- but don't really know or understand on a visceral level exactly what we are going through to try to make those dreams come true.
We might SAY that we're not going to get our hopes up -- but really, how can we help it if we inevitably do? Low success rates might be staring at us in the face, but it's really, really hard not to imagine ourselves on the right side of the odds, especially when it's something that we want so very, very much.
"The chicken was fine," Burkeman concludes, referring to his disappointment that the promise of pasta for dinner on an airline flight wasn't fulfilled. And while it might seem a little ridiculous to compare chicken to children -- the childless/free life can be pretty good too, once you manage to look beyond the disappointment that children aren't going to be on the menu of your life.
Read the article and tell me, what do you think of Burkeman's theory?