Where Does Disappointment Come From?

by Jonathan

Where Does Disappointment Come From?

There is no two ways about it; we have all experienced disappointment before. We’ve been disappointed in ourselves, others, outcomes, the weather, our job, and just about anything else we can think of.

So, here’s my question: Why?

It’s a simple enough question! Why do we get disappointed? Is it because people and situations let us down? Well, I know that’s the way it feels sometimes, but that is not why we get disappointed.

In reality, disappointment has nothing to do with other people, places, or circumstances. The fact is, disappointment never originates with an external source.

All disappointment comes from the same source

Can you guess what that source is? I’ll give you a hint, it’s internal. That’s right; we are the source of our own disappointment. OK, I know what you’re thinking…

If the weather turns bad while I’m on vacation, what does that have to do with me? And if the new car I just bought is a lemon, how is that from an internal source? I don’t control the weather, and I didn’t build the car, so how can I be responsible for the disappointment involved?

To answer those questions, we must first identify what disappointment really is. Is it the weather? Is it a car? Is disappointment any kind of a person, place, thing, or situation? No, it’s none of those.

Well then, what is it?

You know what it is – it’s a feeling! And where do feelings come from? There internal, right? They are an emotional response that we create. In the case of feeling disappointed, it’s our emotional response to EXPECTATION. That’s right; expectation is the basis for all disappointment.

We get disappointed when things fail to live up to our expectations. We don’t go to Hawaii to bask in the rain, and we don’t spend tens of thousands of dollars on a new car so we can have mechanical problems. We tend to attach expectation to almost everything in life and this means disappointment becomes a distinct possibility.

The role of expectation

Giving up on expectation so we won’t be disappointed is not really a viable option. Much of our excitement and enthusiasm in life comes from eager expectation. We look forward to things when we anticipate a desirable outcome. In fact, often times that excitement makes up a large percentage of the joy we experience.

Expectation can also work the other way. If we are anticipating a painful outcome we don’t call it excitement, do we? No, we call it anxiety. In the case of a negative expectation (anxiety), then we are glad when things don’t turn out the way we expected. It’s a relief instead of a disappointment.

So how do we avoid feeling disappointed?

That’s a really good question. There are a number of adjustments we can make to reduce our feelings of disappointment without sacrificing enthusiasm. Here are three:

1. Accept wider parameters. When our expectations fall within parameters that are too narrow then the likelihood that we will experience disappointment goes way up. For example, if you go to Hawaii during the winter accept the fact that you will probably have some rainy days. Plan some non beach activities around those days and you’ll be covered. On the other hand, if having a good time requires that everyday be between 78-83 degrees with cloudless skies, that’s just asking to be disappointed. So loosening up on your expectations a bit reduces the chance of disappointment.

2. Live in the moment. Viewing your life as an adventure allows you to enjoy the greatest variety of experiences. You still have the expectation of adventure, but you haven’t hemmed it into a preconceived package. Instead, you have made yourself open to just about anything that comes along and your enthusiasm remains high. Life is always a experience, cherish that and you’ll enjoy the ride.

3. Value learning. There are valuable lessons in every experience we have. How do you feel about these life lessons. Truth be told, some of our most profound learning comes from situations that didn’t turn out the way we thought they would. Much of the time we get what we need rather than what we want. If learning and growing is a top priority for us, we will find reasons to appreciate a wide range outcomes and experiences.

It’s all about attitude!

In the long run, it’s mostly up to us to decide what value we place on any experience. If we are looking for disappointment, that’s what we are going to find. Things don’t always turn out the way we might like, that’s a fact we all live with. Being enthusiastic and full of eager anticipation makes life fun and exciting. Learning to love the journey is the best defense against the dark cloud of feeling disappointed.

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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Kikolani

Great article about something that can happen to all of us. No matter what stage of life we are in, no matter what our successes in the past, we can all find ourselves disappointed because of one wrong decision or mistake, or one failure of something we tried to achieve.

Attitude is the key. Don’t expect yourself to fail, but at the same time, don’t consider yourself a failure if you do. We all have something that we were meant to do, and failing just means we haven’t found that exact thing yet, or the path that we’re supposed to take to succeeding at it. Plus, don’t focus on mistakes – learn from them and move on.

~ Kristi

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hi Kristi, You are so right, in the end it really all comes down to focus and attitude. The nice thing is, we can control both of those.

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Kikolani

Yes, it just takes great training and discipline. You have to be aware of your own thoughts and feelings well enough to know when you are even subconsciously disappointed in order to prevent getting down on yourself.

~ Kristi

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Rocket Bunny

Hi Jonathan,

Things disappoint us and yes because of our expectations we have but if you look at it this way- Things go wrong so we can appreciate them more when they go right. It is easy to accept disappointment.
The same with friendships – people move away to allow you to meet new people and have new experiences. Growth
It is that old saying – Things fall apart so others can fall together.
Love the post Jonathan.
Cheers ;)

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Good attitude and outlook Bunny, thanks!

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Robin Easton

Oh Jonathan you are brilliant! This article is beautiful, powerful, freeing. So dang right on. I saw your question on Twitter when I was working and didn’t have time to answer and being “Ms. Verbose” had NO idea how to do so in 149 characters. LOL! But I was SO itching to answer and then I come here and you have said all the things I was thinking and wanted to write in the bitty twitter box. This is just perfect.

Often people don’t understand me when I say that I move through life with “bursting expectations” of astounding miracles and gifts to come/happen and yet, I have no expectations at all. I’m funny that way. I think I’m a bit like a river that is flowing forward with gusto and if I hit a rock I simply go around it or over it or under it, but I don’t let my essential flow stop. It’s only one rock and I can either focus on it slowing me down or stopping me or I can let it go, move around it and see the whole big wide river of opportunity beyond it.

We often get caught up on the rock (or what got in our way, or let us down) and we forget that there’s a whole river ahead of us. We can even spend a life time trying to change what “wasn’t the way we wanted it to be”. This may not be the best analogy but I hope it expresses somewhat my point. I just love this article. If I could write like this and conceptualize the way you do I think I would write all your articles, or in other words, write articles like this. LOLOL!!! :) I so relate to your thinking/feeling. Thank you.

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

OK, Robin totally gets it, here’s how we know: “I move through life with “bursting expectations” of astounding miracles and gifts to come/happen and yet, I have no expectations at all.” Thank you for saying it as only you can. Just right.

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Matt Clark

I like this one, and comes a great time. Had a challenge today and it is a reminder that it is the way we respond to things that create the stress and possible “disappointment” in our lives. Thanks again for sharing Jonathan.

Make it great,
Matt

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hey, thanks Matt. Those challenges do find their way into our live, that’s for sure. There’s always fishing, right?

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Dragos Roua

Tough topic. Managed in a very clever way.

Disappointment is part of our lives and, as you said it, it’s coming from a wrong calibration to the external circumstances. Whenever we fail to adapt to the external circumstances we tend project our internal realities outside. With little, or no success, of course.

One of the key lessons of disappointment is for me learning. If I get disappointed too often in similar contexts that’s like a huge red arrow telling me: “you got to learn something from here, or you’ll be doing this in circles over and over again”…

I liked the article and it was timely for me.

Thanks for sharing :-)

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hey Dragos, I relate to the red arrow analogy. I can think of several times throughout my life when I had to stop and ask myself: What is it I need to learn here? And once I thought about it the answer usually manifested. Sometimes those are the lessons that really stay with you. Thanks for joining the conversation.

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Steven Aitchison

Jonathan this is a well written article and not the easiest of subjects.

Accepting the wider parameters really hit home with me, I think sometimes we expect too much from ourselves and from others too. Whilst widening the parameters I think there’s a fine line between optimism and pessimism, so I would imagine you would have to experiment a little here.

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hi Steve, great that you stopped by. I think it’s a question of balance like everything else. Balance is always the hardest thing because it requires constant adjustment. Like a balancing act on a high wire, a series of small adjustments keeps us centered.

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kate smedley

Interesting post, it is definitely about attitude and focus, some useful advice, thank you.

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Stephen - Rat Race Trap

Hello Jonathan! What a timely post. Yesterday as I arrived at my destination in the mountains, it was cold and raining pretty hard. It sucked. I was disappointed. The weather forecast called for rain again tomorrow (today). So I started driving up high into the mountains on wet slick roads all the while be irritated at the weather. After a few hours the rain stopped and the sun came out. What I saw was incredible. Wildlife everywhere, lush green meadows, roaring mountain streams, majestic snow capped peaks, etc. It was incredibly gorgeous. I decided when the rains came again the next day, which they will, that I will be thankful for their life giving nourishment. I decided I will refuse to be disappointed in anything about this experience.

“Learning to love the journey is the best defense against the dark cloud of disappointment.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Now it’s time to get off this damn computer and prepare to enjoy nature. :-)

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hi Stephen, I can relate. When I moved to Oregon I had to learn the same lesson about rain. Where we live the yearly average is 60 inches. On the flip side, it doesn’t rain for 5-6 months during the summer. If we don’t get enough rain in the winter then everything suffers. Living through weeks of gray rainy days can be challenging until you gain a full appreciation for all the benefits that come from it. Over the years I have come to love the rain. Perception makes all the difference.

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Vin

Hi Jonathan, these are some excellent points. Disappointment comes from how we perceive life and we all have the choice to control this perception.

Another great technique for avoiding disappointment is reframing negative thoughts into positive ones. If Nick Vujicic can find positivity in not having arms or legs, and if Viktor Frankl was able to find positivity from being a Nazi concentration camp prisoner, than we can certainly find positivity in our daily inconveniences.

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hey Vin, thanks for joining us. I am a big fan of reframing and really appreciate you pointing out those excellent examples. The more we realize that life is perception the greater control we assume. By the way, I spent some time on your blog, great job!

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Mark Lewis

I think this is one of my favorite articles you’ve ever written! This sums up what I’m all about. It’s not about lowering expectations, it’s about widening the parameters, as you suggest, to achieve that good feeling or excitement. And suggestions 2 and 3 are just as important.

I have never read or thought about it more clearly. Thank you for putting this into words!

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Thanks Mark, I know this is a subject that you have thought about a lot and I am really glad you enjoyed the article. I appreciate your support very much. Vin mentioned some good examples in his comment. Readers, believe me when I say that Mark is another shining example of positive reframing. Would you like to read Mark’s amazing story?

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Mark Lewis

Thank you for your support!

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Angela

Hey, I live in Hawaii and I can tell you there are plenty of rainy days!! And other of life’s disappointments hit just as they would anywhere else. I call it going with the flow and turning the lemons into lemonade. It’s a skill to hone to be sure. Thanks for the encouragement!

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Celes

Hey Jonathan, great post! Disappointment does stem from within us as you said – our expectations. That doesn’t mean we should stop having expectations though as you have pointed out – Continue to have expectations, but not become attached to them as hard truths.

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Dr. Jennifer Howard

Yes Jonathan thanks for this great blog. As a psychotherapist, personal development expert and spiritual teacher, it seems that embracing, learning from and enjoying the journey is a key to happiness and an antidote to disappointment. I so agree that widening our vision by strengthening our ego enough allows for flexibility when difficulties strike. It’s living the old saying that if life gives you lemons make lemonade (would you like one sugar or two?).

Dr. Jennifer Howard

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LJ

Expectations are premeditated resentments. I find that when I expect someone to act in some way, and they don’t, I can be resentful (which is just another twist on disappointment, isn’t it?)

I can hope, and dream, but I can’t be too attached to the results, which are out of my control.

When I can let go of expectations, which is an attachment to the results, my life runs much smoother.

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tori

being disappointed happens to everyone. we need to learn to try to always be happy and try to work to get through our hardships. disappoinment should not run our lives. attitude is most important and we need to learn to keep our attitudes positive and know that everything will work out and be okay.

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Steve

I love how you explained the expectations. I lived in Hawaii for years. I can tell you for a fact that rain and winter go hand in hand. Tourists could have a much better vacation if they planned for the rain. In fact, if they planned to see the waterfalls their trip would be great. If the day it rained, they would plan to drive down H3 instead of disappointment they would be pleased. H3 is full of wonderful waterfalls only on the days it rains.

This Shows you how expectations can change a failed trip into a trip that was full of beautiful sites and wonders.

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Anne @ how to build confidence

This is so true and it’s a great way of looking at it. I’ve had a very encouraging read. I did go to Porto when it was supposed to be hot (but there was a storm during our holidays). I was totally disappointed. I had nothing but outdoor things planned, so I suppose sometimes you can’t help but being disappointed.

Like you said, setting the parameters a bit wider and actually experiencing the moment can help with disappointment.

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Emma

Today I feel very dissapointed. I don’t blame others totally. I know a lot of it is my fault. I made a lot of mistakes in my life and am now paying for them. I’m constantly trying to improve myself and my situation but dissapointment and doubt always get in the way. How does one stop expecting so much of themselves and takes baby steps? How does one ignore the past when it is crystal clear that mistakes from the past are now causing a present to crumble daily? I don’t like this feeling at all and I know that tommorow I will feel all good again and start over, so that keeps me going.

p.s I wish weather was my cause of dissapointment but no it is a lot harsher than that, so people don’t worry about small things coz it could have been a lot worse, believe me

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