Why Low Expectations Are the Key to Happiness (Trust Me, I Know)

I have very low standards.

Sometimes people see me driving around in my beat-up minivan, shopping the clearance racks in Target, living in my not-fancy home, hanging out in my un-manicured lawn, and wonder how that bi*ch is so happy. I’ll tell you why I’m happy: because my expectations are low.

It didn’t happen overnight. I once had grandiose dreams filled with diamonds, Prada, and all-inclusive resorts. My husband and I had credit cards. We bought a house and a car and quickly found ourselves buried under a mountain of debt. In our hurry to keep up with the Joneses, we stupidly ruined our credit and nearly bankrupted ourselves. We got caught up in THINGS.

Our expectations got ahead of our reality.

After a foreclosure and a relocation, we started over. We live in a decent, but older, rental home. Our vehicles were paid for with cash that we scraped together. Our kids mostly wear hand-me-downs or clothing purchased by generous family members. Often people assume that because I am a stay-at-home mom that we are well off, but that is definitely not the case. I have an education and could be a member of the workforce, but right now I choose to stay at home. It’s a trade-off that works for our family, but we are on a very tight budget and I’ve had to adjust my expectations accordingly.

We scrimp. We pinch. We’ve somehow made it, although I’m not sure how. There have been times that I’ve had to count out change to pay for a loaf of bread, and I’ve been known to purchase $3 in gas just to make it to payday. Sometimes people give us strange looks, because it’s not often that you see someone in our part of town counting out three dollar’s worth of change at a gas station, but you know what? I don’t care.

My husband and I hustle to make ends meet. Even though I don’t have a conventional job anymore, I freelance to supplement our income. This often means that I have to get up super early or go to bed very late to get projects done, and my husband also works long hours, because nothing ever seems to come easily to middle-class people … and I mean that in the best possible way. It’s hard to be stuck in the middle, but you know what would be harder? Being stuck at the bottom. I am always reminded that there will always be someone who has more or less than I have, and that is okay.

Low expectations keep me grounded. The kids always have what they need. Our lives are simple. Would I like a purse made from actual leather? Yes. Do I need a purse made from actual leather? No.

Comparison is the thief of joy, I’ve grown to realize. On special occasions, my husband and I exchange simple gifts — whatever we can afford — and we’re happy. The older I’ve gotten, the more I understand that what makes up a life is not what is in it, but who is in it.

This is what I expect out of life: I expect to love and be loved. I expect my children to leave me alone for just long enough to shower daily. I expect my husband to kiss me hello and goodbye. I expect sunshine and rain and for the lights to come on when I flip the switch. I expect my beat-up van to crank in the mornings and I expect my family to have passable table manners unless they wish to be excused.

I expect my friendships to have meaning. I expect my family to remember my birthday. I expect to wake up in the morning. I expect to have clean water for my children to drink and food for them to eat.

I expect to be granted basic human rights.

But happiness? I don’t expect that. Happiness is just a byproduct of simple expectations. And for that, I am so, so grateful.

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