The search for happiness begins with letting go of expectations.

I can’t remember where I read that (and I probably mangled it, since I can’t find the link) but I was thinking about it this morning while I was practicing meditating. At first I really thought it was one of those bullshit philosophical sentiments that make absolutely no sense with a closer look. Like, really, one of those “you will only find the thing that you are looking for when you stop looking” ideals that may be occasionally true, but is mostly not helpful. Sure, I’ve had moments when I’ve given up on finding my keys and suddenly remembered where they might be, but most of the time I find my misplaced keys by looking for them. And not looking, while it might eventually work, does not get me out of the house on time.

But while I was meditating and my thoughts were roaming, as they do, I realized time and again that what I was thinking about was an expectation. Example one, things to do. I had a moment of realizing that I still didn’t manage to do a two-minute job for a friend, felt guilty, resolved to do it immediately, or at least as soon as I stopped meditating — and then realized that my plan was an expectation, an expectation for what I would be doing next. So I reminded myself to let it go. (I will still do it, of course, but I let the pressure of needing to do it immediately and the guilt of not having done it yet go.)

Next I started worrying about Serenity. The dealer called yesterday and they couldn’t find anything wrong with the air-conditioner. Not an okay answer. But worrying is just another expectation, an expectation for a future that will be the way I want it to be. There’s nothing I can do to influence either what’s wrong with Serenity or what will happen next, so what value does worry have? It is entirely contrary to my nature to try to let go of that kind of worry, but I did it anyway. I thought of it as an expectation and tried to let it go.

I went back to trying to focus on my breath and still my noisy brain, but my nose was dripping. It’s tough to be peaceful when you have a runny nose. So then I started questioning whether I was sick or allergic and running back over all the things I’ve eaten recently, trying to figure out what I could be reacting to. But that’s another expectation, in its own way. I’m expecting that something I ate might be making me sick. And really, what difference does it make? My runny nose is going to stay the same, regardless of whether it’s caused by a cold virus or injudicious dairy intake. What benefit does deciding that I’m to blame possibly give me?

At that point, I was totally into the idea. Every thought that came up, I looked at and tried to see how it could be labeled an expectation. As soon as I defined the thought as an expectation, I tried to let it go. Unexpectedly, I got happier and happier as I did so, until the bell rang and I finished my meditation on a pleasant glow.

I was talking to a parent friend a few weeks ago who’s struggling with her adolescent daughter. She’d snapped at her daughter, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?” Her daughter’s answer, “Right, of course!” I think wanting to be right is expectation-thinking. I’m not sure I can express it better than that, but for today, I’m going to try living without expectation (to the extent that is even possible for an obsessive, controlling, perfectionist type) and see where it gets me. Because I think at this point in my life, I’m grown up enough to decide that I would rather be happy than right.