Expectations and Reality: Producing Happiness

Financial Planning for Doctors

Sky on Fire

Wellness Wednesdays:
Life questions

I am often asked various life questions by my residents and medical students:  How do you have a successful marriage?  How did you have kids during residency?  Doesn’t your spouse get tired of not seeing you during this rotation?  Wasn’t medical school hard? How do you balance your research, clinical work, and having a family of five?  What they are really asking is, “How do you produce happiness?”

The secret I have found to all of these dilemmas is about setting expectations.

Producing Happiness: A Simple Equation

I am an extremely logical person; maybe to a fault.  I think that there is a simple solution for producing happiness whether in marriage, raising kids, or even financially.  It actually fits nicely into an equation:

Happiness = Reality – Expectations

The better (higher) the reality, the more happiness you will derive from a situation.  Similarly, the lower the expectations the more happiness.  The opposite is also true.  If you have high expectations and reality is low, that leads to other feelings: Disappointment, sadness, discouragement.

When I was on my surgery rotation in medical school or my ICU rotations in residency, I put it simply.  “Mrs. TPP, you are not going to see me much at all this month.”  When “not much at all” turned into “a little bit,” my wife was pleasantly surprised.  In fact, she was even happier when those low expectations were met than on other rotations where she saw me a bunch, but had even greater expectations that I’d be around more than I was.

This was because expectations were low, and reality matched those expectations; even exceeding it at times! This produces happiness, or at least contentment.

Here is another example: having kids.  If you got married expecting to have 4 kids and end up marrying someone that actually has no interest in having kids at all,  that is a recipe for disaster.  Happiness = 0 -4 = -4.  You actually have a negative “happiness” score.

Note that this is definitely an oversimplification of a complicated topic, but my encouragement to you is to set realistic expectations throughout your training.  Set these expectations in marriage, parenting, financially, and professionally.  This will set you up for a life full of happiness and contentment.

In this new year, I encourage you to set realistic expectations!  You can even make a resolution revolving around this, if you wanted.

TPP Takeaways

  1. In pretty much any area of life, whether you derive joy from an experience is determined by expectations and reality.
  2. Happiness = Expectations – Reality.
  3. If you expect one thing and reality is drastically different, you’ll find yourself disappointed.
  4. If expectations are similar to reality, you will be content.
  5. This applies even to the “worst of times.”  If you expect the worst and reality is close to that, you’ll actually be okay with it.

What do you think?  Does this oversimplification typically produce predictable happiness?  Disappointment when expectations are high and reality is low?  Are you good at setting expectations?


2 thoughts on “Expectations and Reality: Producing Happiness”

  1. Usually, I don’t reply much to a post, but this one is that good! I enjoyed reading your happiness logic so much that I will try to apply in real life. Me to wife: no bonus this year honey… then comes a bonus check! 🙂

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