Wednesday, June 2, 2010


What are our expectations of Life?
What forms our expectations? How does it happen?

I recall some time ago a patient came to my office – I forget if the patient was male or female, it doesn’t matter because the questions aren’t gender-specific.

I asked one of my typical openers, “So, who or what prompted you to make today’s appointment?”

The patient replied, “I don’t know… it just shouldn’t be this hard.”

The patient’s statement is not uncommon. When I hear it I begin thinking of a variety of things. Firstly, (because I really do want to be a good therapist) I pause because I’m going to wait for the patient to (hopefully) expand their answer – to put some flesh on these few bones. It’s possible the patient is horribly depressed. Maybe he/she truly doesn’t know. It is true that major depression is characterized by diminished concentration and neurasthenia.

On the other hand, perhaps my patient suffers from a condition that sometimes seems pandemic. For lack of a better word, I’ll call it entitlementism.

It sometimes seems that too often, people who otherwise seem richly blessed, believe that “happiness” is the “normal” emotional steady-state and that achieving it shouldn’t be difficult. Entitlementism is to me, a very curious condition. As I survey the condition of the world, I find very little that suggests that happiness is the de fact0 human condition, to the contrary, it seems that the world is “hard”. Famine seems more common than abundance. War seems to be a chronic plague to humans.

How then did people develop the notion that they should be happy most of the time – if not constantly – and if they aren’t “happy” then they are (almost by definition) “depressed”? I don’t know about you, but I don’t wake-up with the giggles and I don’t spend the bulk of my day with a self-contented grin on my face. Don’t get me wrong, I do have moments of happiness and much of my day is filled with gratitude and I find a sense of purpose and meaning in my life. I am able to see beauty in the world… maybe 10% of my day is “happy”.

What do you believe you’re entitled to?

The same dynamic attaches to people in relationships (any relationship). Some people seem to believe that a relationship should be “easy”. I sometimes wonder, “On what planet do these people live?”

To me, is seems that even under the most favorable conditions, relationships are not easy. Two individuals with different perspectives, different beliefs, different life-experiences are going to make different choices in life. It seems that two individuals must be fairly mature, flexible and forgiving to make a long-lasting relationship.

Does anyone really believe that relationships should be “easy”?

To me, it seems self-evident that anything of great value requires ongoing effort to maintain the condition of the valued thing. Think for a moment of owning a car; if I care about my car, I keep it clean (that takes money time and effort), I change the oil regularly (that takes time, money and effort). I replace the tires when needed (MT&E) and I keep it licensed (MT&E). The same applies if I own a home. Maybe I missed it, if so, can someone point out where the “easy” is.

A while ago, a patient brought me an “easy button”. When pushed, a mechanical voice says, “That was easy.” - but it doesn’t change my car’s tires or pay any bills that came addressed to me.

Perhaps entitlementism is the result of generations that were encouraged (often by therapists) to believe that somehow struggle, suffering or not getting everything we want, suggests that there is something out of alignment. That something is broken and needs fixing.

If one owns a house should it be expected that weeds will never be a problem? Is it “wrong” to find termites? Should a roof last for eternity?

Where did we get these ideas?

Does this all sound like too much gloomy news?

Maybe people would rather hear the lyrics to that Broadway song, “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow.”

It seems to me if we recover from entitlementism, perhaps then we can begin to accept that the goal is not persistent happiness but meaningful work, appreciating small moments of Grace and gratitude for the smallest brief moments of serenity.

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