Secret 2(a)—Adjust Your Expectation
Secret 2(b)—Choose Your Attitude

These two come from my mother and grandmother, respectively, and sum up their personalities in a nutshell. Both are firm believers in the idea that you can only control your own behavior. Trying to micromanage the universe—or just other people—is an exercise in futility and sure to irritate. When choosing your attitude, you're deciding what your outlook on life will be. It's easier said than done, but habitually happy people are not that way because only good things happen to them. Instead, they simply decide that no matter what happens outside their control, their attitude will be a positive one. Choosing to do the best you can with what you can control, and make the best of what you cannot control, seems like good life advice all around.

Adjusting your expectation has got to be the most overlooked trick in the book for securing a stable and happy relationship with friends and significant others. Mismatched expectations are so pervasively harmful because there's no way to get around them: I want something from you that you are not prepared to give either because you don't know it is what I want, or because it's not something that's in your nature to do. I get hurt repeatedly because, no matter how much I pout and sulk, you won't do what I want. It sounds childish when it's written like that, but this is exactly what the brain goes through when you expect five phone calls a day and he only has time for one. Or when he sends you lilies instead of the expected roses. Or when he likes rationalized argument and you prefer heated spats.

The onus is on me to open the dialogue so that my expectations come to match yours. Moreover, I have to not try to change you (the theme here seems pretty obvious), because I have no real control over how you will change, if at all. A much safer bet would be to adjust what I expect, and to acknowledge that you are exactly the way you are meant to be.

Caveat: For those of you thinking this sounds like the "roll over and play dead" strategy, it is not at all. Adjusting your expectations is not about sacrificing what you feel entitled to in order to feel happy and fulfilled. Instead, it is about giving up crazy and useless effort to change someone else in favor of realizing how you can create positive change by focusing on your own behavior. If you need more clarification on this point, go straight to the source. My mom's book on precisely this topic, and many others, is called Us: Transforming Ourselves and the Relationships That Matter Most.


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