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The Fireworks Have Been Canceled…Please Enjoy a Silent Celebration

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Have you ever heard this—“If you don’t have any expectations, you don’t get disappointed”? I think that sentiment is totally backward and sounds like loser-ville to me.

Try it this way instead, inspired by an old song of Liza Minelli’s called A Quiet Thing

When it all comes true
Just the way you’d planned
It’s funny but the bells don’t ring

It’s a quiet thing
When you hold the world
In your trembling hand
You’d think you’d hear a choir sing
It’s a quiet thing

Most of us have a pervasive expectation of wild over-the-top experiences but then—wham!—disappointment. Because real life is not fantasyland.

Most of the biggest achievements in my life and most of my special moments actually occurred without any fanfare and were, in fact, quiet events.

Conversely, most of my greatest disappointments were surrounded by hoopla and unrealistic expectations about how I would feel. Note: This is really important—it’s not that we don’t get results and great things don’t happen. It’s that we expect orchestras and fireworks to accompany the results, and so we are disappointed.

Example: Before we were married, my husband and I lived near a beautiful park where wedding parties would often come for photographs. During spring and summer weekends, there would be a half dozen or more groups on any given Saturday afternoon. I loved weddings because I had this grand fantasy about the perfect romance and celebration. I would walk our dog at the park and fantasize about all those “pretty princesses.” Fast-forward to my own wedding—which still is one of the best days of my life. My reality wasn’t full of fanfare and fireworks…and yet it was simply perfect.

It was the same with every one of my promotions and major work achievements—it just felt like a natural progression. The miraculous births of our children were intense and amazing and “right.” And when I ran my second 10k (6.2 miles) a few weeks ago, finishing in Folsom Stadium at University of Colorado in front of thousands of spectators, the celebration of my accomplishment was my own, not the noise of the crowd.

It’s not that we shouldn’t have expectations—or that we shouldn’t celebrate, because I actually believe it is very important to mark significant occasions and achievements. But I also believe that many people are hugely disappointed when life’s reality is dim relative to their grand expectations. My least favorite night of the year? New Year’s Eve. There’s so much pressure to have it be the best!

It seems that everything in today’s very public world has become an event, and we place undue pressure on ourselves about what we should be. Then we are disappointed. Weddings need to be weddings of the century. Social media “obligates” people to demonstrate that their lives are the happiest and “perfect-est.”  Wedding proposals have become public displays of a very private, personal moment. Why should the whole family participate? Whatever happened to quietly getting down on one knee and inviting someone to share your life?

The big question is, what is this doing to our society and our everyday lives? How many marriages end because the honeymoon period ends or because those cute little babies become older and more challenging? The reality of happy marriages is that they generally are not based on a continuous stream of Insta-worthy events. Rather, it is the comfort of two people in sync helping each other to create an enriched and successful life together. There is great delight in the simplicity of planting flowers in the garden or going to a museum and dinner, followed by a nice long walk on a crisp spring evening, as my husband and I did this past weekend.

I read a while back that baby boomers live their lives in a perpetual state of disappointment because they grew up in a world of plenty with great expectations of jobs and riches. Sadly, world challenges—including the Vietnam War, the oil crisis and runaway inflation—shattered their dreams of Shangri-la. And now many of those baby boomers have raised children who have been celebrated constantly with participation awards and prizes. How disappointed those children will be when there isn’t a weekly participation award at work.

My own children and their friends are frequently disappointed that their performances aren’t “good enough.” I’m not sure what they expect their successes to feel like, but by any rational measure, they all are doing great. Yet there is an undertone of disappointment. It saddens and frightens me because it is physically and emotionally unhealthy to always be searching for a rainbow that doesn’t exist. There definitely are big successes and dreams fulfilled. They just don’t generally come with bells and whistles. Life is not a virtual-reality video game.

Somehow…some way…we need to realign our expectations with reality. Conversations about the drug crisis talk about the hit of the feel-good hormone dopamine that comes with every bing and ting of the computer and phone, and celebrities talk about their addiction to applause. Well, how much dopamine were we raised on when celebrations occurred for every nondistinct moment in life? And, what is the feeling of loss and emptiness when the dopamine doesn’t come? How many people will end up on antidepressants or worse to ease their disappointment?

Life is not about the celebrations and fireworks. And you run the risk of being disappointed forever if you are constantly chasing that noisy acknowledgment.

Real life happens in those quiet moments. See it. Feel it. Relish it.

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