In principle there are two factors that affect our feelings; expectation [a strong conviction that something we desire should (or will) happen] and reality [what actually happens]. While reality is mostly by design a feeling is mostly by choice. We all have the luxury of expecting, but God reserves all the rights to what actually happens. The good news is that although we cannot control reality we can always choose how to feel about it.
As I write the 2014 FIFA World Cup final between Germany and Argentina has just concluded. As the Italian referee blows his final whistle, as you probably know, the result stands at 1- 0 to Germany; which means Germany is the World Cup winner for the fourth time. I, like many, was not surprised to hear the results because I expected Germany to win.
What continued to amaze me, however, was how the same result evoked different kinds of reactions from different people. Of course, to those of us who wanted Germany to win it was all joy and celebrations. To the Argentina supporters though it was a different story. Many were distraught and some broke into tears. But the neutrals – those who did not pick sides (or didn’t bother about football at all) – had other issues to worry about because the result meant nothing. People’s differing responses to the result was not caused by the result itself but by people’s expectations.
The above scenario underlines the law of feelings that affect our lives in a daily basis. This law says; we determine how we feel by our expectations. We tend to feel good when our expectations are met and feel bad when we experience something we did not want. Simply put, we set our selves to feel a certain way the moment we choose what we want.
Happiness is therefore, is equal to reality minus expectations. If reality exceeds your expectations you will be very happy, but if reality doesn’t match your expectation you will be sad.
The obvious way of keeping yourself out of disappointment is, one may consider, to stay neutral – to not expect anything. But by calibrating your expectations to zero you are also ruling yourself out of the thrill of happiness. To have no expectation is to be emotionally dead. Emotional thrill is the privilege for the living; lifeless things cannot be happy or sad.
Expectation is the result of our thinking- attaching meaning to something. Technically any thinking soul has feelings. Opting not to expect is, by definition, a choice. We choose to expect what we consider to be good for us. So the best way to manage our feelings is to adjust our expectations by simply changing the meaning (reason) of our expectations.
Here below are my classic reasons that have helped me rationalize any potential disappointment.
Aspire but refuse to despair. The most effective way of controlling emotions for me is to aspire for great things but refuse to despair when my aspirations fail to materialize. I have been trained to expect the unexpected. Before making any plans, I prayerfully consult God for advice, in so doing I make sure my aspirations are indeed God’s aspirations too. I then take all measures within my powers to make those aspirations come true. After doing my best I sit back and relax expecting God to do His best too. I do so in the knowledge that God, who is powerful, just and loving, will never allow His plan to be foiled. In this regard what ever happens in the end is God’s plan. By being, God’s result also means it is profitable to Him, to me and to others.
Your moment will come. In a spirited endeavour where only one winner is expected losing is the assured reality by default. So I welcome the fact that losing is part of the game as much as winning. I accept that all of us deserve to win and that I am not going to have what I want all the time. God is just and He loves all of us equally. He has scheduled for each of us to experience moments of pleasure in turns. Swahili tradition has a saying, “kutesa ni kwa zamu” which, in essence, means we’ll all go through a circle of pain and pleasure in turns. In Ecclesiastes chapter three King Solomon said practically the same thing; that every one of us must go through times of pain and pleasure, victory and defeat, birth and death.
Now, one might ask is it necessary for us to pass through the circle of pain and pleasure? And if yes why can’t we all experience this at the same time? Here is my humble response to this.
As implied earlier certain things, by their very nature, can only exist at the back of their antonyms (opposites); which then means only a few can experience them at any given moment. For example victory can only be experienced at the expense of defeat. To win the victor must defeat the loser. In this case victory and defeat are antonyms – they happen at the back of each other but cannot be met by the same person at the same time. This is also the case with all other life experiences.
Pleasure cannot have a meaningful existence in the absence of pain. On the other hand pain cannot be that ‘painful’ if we have never known its opposite – pleasure. Simply put, pain and pleasure are absolute ingredients of each other. Today’s defeat is the ingredient for your tomorrow’s victory. We must be cheerful when our opponents win not only because we have made their victory possible but because their victory is also God’s victory and that the same God will use our defeat to set up the platform for our imminent victory.
Whenever I experience the defeat of some sort I remind myself that the pain will last only for a while. As the psalmist said weeping might endure for a night but joy comes in the morning. When my moment of joy finally arrives God will turn my mourning into joyful dancing; Hewill take away my clothes of mourning and clothe me with joy. As always, I will sing praises to God my Lord