A little while ago, I read this article – an extract from a book by Johann Hari, published in The Guardian – and it echoed something that I’ve been thinking about for a while now: the root cause of depression. Is it purely chemical? I don’t know for sure, of course, but I believe that our circumstances affect our susceptibility. Maybe I would have suffered from PPD after my second child anyway, but maybe – if I hadn’t already been lonely and miserable and feeling like a failure – it wouldn’t have affected me, at least not to such a great degree. Maybe.
If we take this as our hypothesis, it leads us to ask – why the alarming increase in cases of anxiety and depression in recent years? You’d expect, if depression really is linked to life events, that instances would increase in – for example – a race like the Sami who are gradually losing the way of life they’ve had for centuries, and with it some sense of their identity. Or a society like Greece, profoundly affected by financial crisis, and permeated by the helpless, hopeless feeling that their own government has no real power.
But these instances are increasing in the UK and in the USA, too, and among privileged young people with – seemingly – everything going for them. This article from Time is about just that – not only the social background, but the correlation between increasing social media usage and increasing mental health issues in teenagers. It’s a good article, and will certainly give you something to think about (worry about) if you’re a parent!
But I would go so far as to say that it’s not confined to teenagers, this whatever-it-is that is linked to social media, but reaches much further, and is affecting our collective psyche. I’ve got so many ideas about this buzzing in my brain, so I’ll try to stick to today’s topic, which is EXPECTATIONS.
Let me backtrack a minute and say that I think one of the triggers for depression is feeling worthless, like a failure, and like you’ve let yourself and everybody else down. That’s certainly pretty much how I was feeling prior to my crash-landing in PPD-ville. Failing to meet expectations – failing to measure up to The Ideal.
In the past, failure was so much more tangible: failing to breed enough sheep or grow enough food, failing to produce sons, failing to pass an exam. These days, we still have tangible failures – failed business ventures, job losses, and the like – but they’re somehow magnified because media is everywhere these days, shoving in our faces perfect images of other people’s lives. People don’t share failure, they only share success – so naturally, all we see is success. Which leads us to believe, in our subconscious minds, that everyone else is succeeding while we are barely scraping by.
But there is another yardstick by which we measure ourselves. It’s harder to see and harder to describe. It’s some notion that has wormed its way into our heads in the past few decades – some idea about perfect happiness. An idea that we can reach some semi-divine state (with the perfect family, the house, the car and whatever else you think you need to be on an advert for cheeeeese or something) … and then, and then, and then – you will be HAPPY.
We don’t just hope for it. We don’t just wish for it. We expect it.
And that is our greatest mistake.
I believe this is what I thought. I knew I had to do this-and-that, I knew I wanted such-and-such, but I always assumed that in the end I would have money enough, be a stay-at-home mum, be happy. I didn’t think it through – I just expected it. But my expectations weren’t fulfilled, and that is somehow more devastating than your plans not working out, because when you make plans, you always know there is a way they could fail. You know it’s going to be a hard slog, you look for the holes and you try and plug them. With expectations, you almost don’t even realise you have them.
Expectations are assumptions, which sometimes have no basis in reality. They take no effort on our part to conjure up – they are linked to our upbringing, our dreams as kids, our sense of entitlement. And I’m betting that most people’s expectations include being happy.
If you stick around my blog long enough, you’ll notice this is a pet peeve of mine – the myth of perfect happiness. If you expect, if you assume, that you can achieve that, then you’ve already set yourself up for a fall. Happiness is meant to be a fleeting emotion, not a permanent state. Real life is too painful to always be happy. Which is why we chase and treasure those moments of perfect bliss.
If you expected, like I did, a life of perfect happiness, then you will have failed to live up to your expectations. Then maybe you will start searching like a maniac for the reason why. Did you marry the wrong guy? Choose the wrong university? What if you lived in another house, another neighbourhood, away from your joy-sucking, condescending in-laws? What if you had financial security <starts working like a looney>? But in order to be happy, don’t you have to be with your kid all the time? Isn’t that what a good mother does? … On and on until you’re spiralling on a never-ending loop of regret and guilt and what-ifs.
STOP! If I could shout one word loud enough for my 2012-self to hear, that would be it. STOP spinning in that vortex because you’re approaching this from the wrong end. The question is not Where did I go wrong? but What will I do next?
If I’ve just described you, STOP. Chuck all those expectations out of the window – you do not need them on this ride. You need something concrete, something to aim for, something that will bring you joy and happiness – not just the vague assumption that, one day, everything will fall into place and you will be happy.
Are you ready to sort your expectations from your goals? Click here to get your FREE Expectation to Goals Worksheets and set yourself up for a life of action, not regret!
If you’re thinking I’ve forgotten about the Law of Attraction and Visualisation, don’t. I think those things are great – as motivators. But in terms of changing your life … they’re useless without action. To quote the oft-quoted Gandhi: you’ve got to be the change. Even deciding to take control of your life is so empowering, so what are you waiting for?
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