See, the problem is, when I don’t really hear what someone said, I don’t just ask the person what they said. Instead, I go ahead and say what I thought I heard. While this usually just makes me sound like a crazy person with a hearing impairment, it sometimes also leads to sayings that persist for years.
The most-used saying that was derived this way came from a (misunderstood) conversation. I had in Kenya. I was on safari in Amboseli with a group of VSO volunteers I had just met. These were some of the best people I had met in ages, and I was having the time of my life, even though this was a time when I was severely struggling with my day-to-day life back home. I was laughing incredibly heartily on a regular basis, developing inside jokes, and just feeling incredibly connected with these people who were, literally a day ago, strangers. As we were climbing some stairs to a lookout area where we would eat our lunch while watching hippos wallow in a waterhole, I was behind a gal who was talking about a meditation retreat she had attended. She said a phrase she heard at the retreat that had really stuck with her, but I was sure I wasn’t hearing correctly. I should have just asked what she was saying. Instead, I said, questioningly, “Did you say, ‘Expect tasty juice joy’?” This lovely human turned to me and said through laughter, with highly exaggerated diction, “Expectations. Reduce. Joy!”
Expectations reduce joy.
I now, instead of saying the exact phrase that was intended, still find myself saying, “Expect tasty juice joy,” to indicate that the very expectation (and then presumed lack of “delivery” on the universe’s part) can make what is still a very joyous occasion seem like a disappointment.
There is nowhere in my life than in travel where I see this more obviously. I’m currently in England, about halfway through a hike across the country, following the length of Hadrian’s Wall. When you read guidebooks (as is the case with just any guidebook, I suppose), the pictures are magnificent. They depict people walking jauntily along fully exposed sections of a wall that is nearly two thousand years old. TWO THOUSAND. In the pictures, vistas abound, with breathtaking scenery and amazing historical remnants.
Weeellllllllll, the first two days were a bit …disappointing. My expectations? Walk at my usual pace, be in scenic places, surrounded by nature and interesting historical ruins/sites, maybe get rained on, but finish the day in a tired stupor of nature-induced bliss. Or something equally as magical. Well, not so much. None of those things. So I found myself feeling disappointed at points. Frustrated. And only because my expectations weren’t being met. We were already well into an amazing trip, creating stories, including our own misunderstandings based on mishearing people (“Why did she just say poop cup?” “Ummm… I don’t think she would have said poop cup.”). The first day of walking, we were surrounded by interesting urban landscape, but I was disappointed because I wasn’t getting what I’d expected. Now, with even a couple of days’ perspective on the experience, I can find immense gratitude for the things that I did get to experience. Not the least of those things is simply a reiteration of the lesson that expectations reduce joy.
I would, however, consider revising that to say that high (positive) expectations reduce joy. When you’re expecting nothing but a pile of shit (which, we did see a whole lot of poop along the way), you may just get a beautiful vista. But when I have absolutely no expectations and take things as they come, without plans, without expectations, that is where the joy comes flowing through every situation. Sound like a goal for the rest of the trip!