Sunday, August 10, 2014

Happiness and the Power of Our Expectations

How much happiness--how much sheer joy--do you derive from your involvement in financial markets?

One measure of that is reflected in your market involvement during times when markets are not open:  evenings, weekends, holidays.  If you're a dedicated writer, painter, musician, entrepreneur, or scientist, your work knows no limitations of the clock.  It's not that you are tied to your work; it's that, when what you are doing is deeply rewarding, your work becomes part of you.

Even the greatest dedication, however, can be sabotaged by expectations and self-demands that create more frustration than fulfillment.  A recent study found that our expectations help to shape our experience of happiness.  When we are surprised by positive outcomes, we are more likely to respond with happiness than if we expected those outcomes all along.  Interestingly, when we hold negative expectations, this doesn't result in a positive surprise effect when outcomes don't live up to our fears.  Rather, we are happiest when we expect good things and then are pleasantly surprised when those good things turn out to be better than expected.

An interesting review of 20 years of research has led one investigator to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy forms of perfectionism.  Healthy perfectionism occurs when payoffs exceed costs and goals and expectations are high, but generally met.  Unhealthy perfectionism occurs when goals and expectations are set so high that payoffs inevitably fall short of costs.  The difference between healthy and unhealthy perfectionism boils down to expectations--and the psychological forces driving those.

A wealth of research shows that perfectionism of the less healthy kind reduces productivity and is even associated with poorer health outcomes.  One possible link between perfectionism and these adverse consequences is self-criticism.  Healthy perfectionism is about striving and moving oneself forward.  Unhealthy perfectionism is about living a life script of perpetually falling short.

It's not difficult to hypothesize that healthy perfectionism sets people up for positive surprises, whereas unhealthy perfectionism sabotages the conditions under which happiness is most likely to occur.  Our self-talk is nothing more or less than an internalized conversation.  If we're talking to ourselves in negative ways that we would never speak to others we care about, there's a good likelihood that we are undermining our own fulfillment.

Further Reading:  We Gravitate Toward Our Self-Talk