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On September 21st, International Day of Peace, Modern History Press published my latest book, A Piece of Peace.
This is my 13th book in total. But it is my first pandemic book where everything felt unpredictable and unfamiliar.
The extrovert in me felt a little sad—not being able to do any readings at bookstores or participate in literary festivals or partner up with organizations with similar values or hop on a plane with outfits lined up for the events was a little disheartening.
That said, the introvert in me has been feeling grateful: virtual events and celebrations, conversations with people across the globe, no schlepping across the NYC boroughs with copies of the book, and minimal late evening commitments. I get to “see” people on Zoom and still get into bed before 10 p.m. My workday starts before 5 a.m. so late nights aren’t my friend.
Someone asked how I had found happiness under such unusual circumstances. I said, “I learned to manage my expectations.”
Yes, there is the total book sales and fabulous media coverage, which tells me things are fine. But you can’t set expectations and things to go your way—that’s a guaranteed way to experience disappointment.
Here are five reminders that will help you navigate expectations and not kill your happiness in the process:
1. Disappointment from others is inevitable
On the day of the book launch (in fact, that entire week), my friends and colleagues and reviewers shared pictures of A Piece of Peace in their social media feed. Instead of focusing on the outpour of love and support (even from people I didn’t know personally), my attention went to those who forgot it was my big day. I got clingy to expectations, even though I knew this would happen—between their self-centeredness and apathy, my book and I didn’t stand a chance with these people. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that either I can blame people for disappointing me, or I can fill my heart with gratitude for all the support. Come what may, I didn’t want to walk down the path of heartbreak or resentment.
2. Life is unfair
Expecting things outside of your control may be a losing battle. I learned this one the hard way when I fell sick in 2018. I know bad things happen to good people all the time. Sometimes, you won’t be able to see reason in any of it. You will also witness people who hurt others, thrive. Expecting that if you do good, you won’t face hardships is a bit of an unrealistic expectation.
3. You can’t change people
We’ve all been there: you do a nice thing for your friends, family, colleagues, and partners. You remember their big dates and congratulate them on their celebratory moments. You plan surprises and treat them like they are the center of your universe. We might not say it overtly, but in the back of our minds, we expect them to do the same for us. When you don’t receive reciprocation, you might start to sense tension in the relationship. Here is the thing: with some people, even if you communicate your expectations, they still won’t behave the way we want them to. Sometimes, takers don’t know how to stop taking. Then there are those who lack the emotional intelligence or social etiquette to reciprocate. People don’t change because of what others feel or do. These expectations drive us away from the joys of reality.
4. Success comes in different forms
Every time someone asks me, “Sweta, how is the book doing?” I always say, “So far so good.” These are difficult times, and we are all doing our best. I don’t want my self-worth to be tied into book sales or award ceremonies or social media posts. For me, receiving a response from Tara Brach’s assistant that Tara can’t review my book because of her overwhelming schedule…that was a moment of success. Do you know how often writers don’t hear back on their query? A stranger emailed me that they bought several copies of A Piece of Peace for their friends and family because it moved them—that gives me the most satisfaction.
5. Things don’t make people happy
As cliché as it sounds, reliance on anything external (people, substance abuse, food, shopping, and so on) can bring only temporary bliss. Most people are so disconnected from themselves that they don’t know what will bring them joy. Learn to sit with discomfort and in silence. Ask yourself who and what makes you happy!
Let go of expectations and find something to be grateful about, even when things do not turn out the way you hoped. Expecting life to always turn out the way you want is a guaranteed way to experience disappointment because life will not always turn out the way you want it to.
“There were two ways to be happy: improve your reality, or lower your expectations.” ~ Jodi Picoult