None of us are ever going to get to the place in life where we have no more disappointments. We can’t expect to be sheltered from every little thing. Disappointment is a fact of life–one that must be dealt with.

Joyce Meyer

It is a common phenomenon that when we misjudge a situation, or when our hopes fail to manifest, we experience a sense of bewilderment which is almost too much to bear. We all feel this way from time to time. It is a source of psychological stress and in some situations, it can be detrimental to our physical and mental well-being. 

Unlike the feeling of regret where we focus primarily focus on the personal choices that contribute to poor outcome, disappointment is more to do with focusing on the outcome itself. When we primarily focus on the outcomes rather than our actions and choices, such an emotional state can be quite overwhelming. 

According to researchers, frequent feelings of being let down are linked to a brain chemical called dopamine. It links our actions, experiences, people and environment to pleasure and coaxes us to recreate those circumstances in pursuit of the same feeling. Because of which we raise expectations about the future to predict what’s rewarding and motivates us to seek it. 

Disappointment thus is a subjective response related to anticipated rewards. And in most situations, this is what sets us up for dissatisfaction. We tend to use our past experience to predict whether or not our present situation makes us feel best. And when the present doesn’t match our expectations we feel doubly disappointed. In a way, it is just the action of your brain readjusting itself to reality after discovering things are not the way you thought they were. 

Disappointment and expectations 

“Expectation is the only seed of disappointment.” – Mokokoma Mokhonoana

When we experience disappointment, our expectations fall out of line with reality. The level to which we feel disappointed is often depends on the nature of our desire. Our desire for something we hope for is what makes disappointment a more complex emotion to deal with. Expectations are more paradoxical when it comes to experiencing disappointment. This is because even when we do get what we want, we may still feel disappointed if the outcome doesn’t bring the expected bliss and happiness. Unhappiness from the failure of something hoped for or expected to happen is the most apt reason. Expectations or preferences when perceived as an ego threat also leads to more guilt and anxiety. 

The way we handle disappointment is related to our past conditioning and our early, formative experiences. Optimism might come to your aid in recovering from certain disappointments, but it may not always prepare you for emotional cushioning in case of unexpected consequences or situations. If you think setting your goals low and avoiding taking risks prevents disappointment, then you are only setting yourself up for more dissatisfied life. And same holds true for overachievers. They too give into their perfectionist attitude and invariably it too often leads to disappointment. The tendency to attribute negative life events to your personal feelings leads to lot of self-blame. Not measuring up to the image of your ideal self can further harm your confidence.

Not having expectations in the first place isn’t however realistically possible. Imagine trying to have no thoughts or ideas about how something should be or might go is obviously not possible. Also, disappointment is not meant to destroy us. If taken in our stride and handled well, it leads us to greater insight and wisdom. But to be able to do this is to follow the path of self-reflection. Only by reflecting on painful associations, you will be able to become free of them.

Validation through self-reflection

Reflecting on your experiences through naming a feeling can help you cope in a healthy way. Validating means accepting that you couldn’t achieve what you hoped for or that you are disappointed. Have you ever created an emotion or tried making an emotion go away. You might be pretty much aware that things won’t happen that way. Once we feel disappointed about something, it is there until it fades or passes. This happens regardless of how upsetting or uncomfortable they are at first. This may vary depending on the intensity of the situation. But however intense they may be they all fade with time. 

So, acknowledge instead of ignoring, minimising or distracting yourself from unpleasant feelings and remind yourself that it’s okay to have those feelings.Accepting disappointing circumstances, despite your emotional reaction can make things less uncomfortable. 

Self-compassion is the antidote of disappointment 

Disappointing situations or outcomes can make us question our choices, ambitions,  self-worth and our abilities. Not able to living up to our true potential invites unpleasant emotions like shame, fear and guilt. In such situations, being overly critical of ourselves can increase anxiety about it. Whereas self-compassion helps you to refocus and become more able. Research shows that people with higher levels of self-compassion tend to handle stress better. They spend less time reactivating stressful events by dwelling on them. 

The first step in becoming self-compassionate is to accept what went wrong. And instead of self-judging, treat yourself as you would treat a friend. Just like the way you’d be supportive and kind and listen to what exactly went wrong, treating yourself exactly same way can help ease the self blame. Give yourself enough time and space to realise where your plans went off the track. 

Respond to your unpleasant emotions and thoughts with understanding, patience, and acceptance rather than with harsh self-criticism. The ability to forgive ourselves for mistakes, large and small is important for psychological well-being. When you view your disappointment as proof of your inadequacy, it just leaves you feeling more isolated and disconnected. Instead, consider misjudgment or mistakes as part of the larger human condition. This way, you can reframe your connection to others and embrace your disappointment as an intrinsic part of simply being human. 

But you know that disappointment is just the action of your brain readjusting itself to reality after discovering things are not the way you thought they were.

Brad Warner

To-do:

Practising mindfulness let’s you observe what you are thinking and feeling rather than trying to avoid difficult emotions or to over-identify with them. Give yourself time to reflect on what went wrong or was the outcome predictable, or that you could have put in more effort or was it outside of your control. Being curious of the reason rather than focusing on the feeling of disappointment equips you to better cope. 

Check whether your expectations are unrealistically high or are you setting your goals too low. If your goals are too high, work constructively to modify your expectations and focus on how you want to feel in the moment, rather than how you believe you’ll feel once you get the thing you want so badly. Instead of pinning your hopes on unrealistic outcomes, break your larger goals into small manageable steps.

Indulging in social media comparisons makes you set unrealistic expectations from yourself and others. If you see others reach their goals quicker, you can become disappointed for not reaching yours. Reevaluate your perception and behaviours. Set your own milestones, be it your career, relationships or academics and stay focused on the process of reaching them no matter how long it takes to get there.

When something doesn’t go according to our plan, we may interpret it to mean that we can’t have what we want. It is important to keep an eye on what you truly want and at the same time stay open to various ways that the outcome can be realised. Particularly when you are going after something new that you really care about. Strive for improvement and not perfection. 

Some instances of disappointment are predictable and preventable. But there are others that are unavoidable and beyond our control. Try and differentiate between situations that fall within our control and factors that are beyond it. Being able to recognise the difference will help you to deal with your frustrations more appropriately. 

The more you dwell on the disappointment, the more it will hurt and disrupt your ability to focus, concentrate or be creative. Give yourself limited time to acknowledge the feelings and move on. There is always a next opportunity regardless of what disappointed you. View your disappointment as an opportunity for growth and to your actions to achieve your goals. 

Avoid for any mind altering things or engaging in impulsive behaviours. Explore the thought processes that led to your feelings of disappointment. Instead of blaming yourself, or circumstances, reframe your disappointments as learning experiences.

The thing about being unpleasant emotions like disappointment is that it reveals what you actually care about, where you are and where you want to be. They might mean you are passionate about something. Even though you feel like shying away from things that aren’t turning out your way, taking time to learn from your unpleasant experiences, you will be more prepared than ever before the next time you face such situations. 


Life in itself has no meaning. Life is an opportunity to create meaning.

Osho

In a culture obsessed with happiness, too many of us live our lives chasing happiness rather than meaning. We are too busy looking for happiness in various aspects of our lives, be it relationships, health, work lives or in our creative pursuits. None of us take time to pause and reflect upon-whether or not our lives make sense in any way or to know what makes our lives worth living. Most people’s goal is to find happiness. Living a meaningful life however is in no way connected to how comfortable or happy one is, whether you have enough money or how good you are at satisfying your wants or needs. It has more to do with discovering your true purpose and leading life in connection to that bigger purpose.

A happy life is not necessarily be a meaningful life

Happy life and meaningful life often go hand in hand. However, happiness is related to our biological needs and desires, whereas meaning has more to do with our overall life satisfaction and contentment. If one wants to pursue meaning in life, they need to stop searching for happiness in whatever they do. Even though happiness makes you feel your life is worthwhile in the moment, it doesn’t guarantee you will find meaning in whatever you do. 

Seeking happiness without meaning is short lived and would probably be stressful. When your expectations of happiness are not met or when you realise you aren’t happy, you again feel empty and experience negative emotions. On the other hand, people who really strive to pursue meaning in their life  acquire better attitudes that cause them to look beyond their current situation and connect with a bigger purpose. Finding a way to seek meaning rather than happiness makes it easier to glide through life’s ups and downs. Seeking meaning in what you do always results in long-term happiness and creates lasting relationships leaving you intrinsically motivated.

Quest for meaning begins with self awareness 

Many of us struggle with finding meaning as our days get controlled by worldly perceptions of what we are and what we have to do to fulfil our responsibilities. We often end up feeling swept along, rather than living in control of ourselves. Searching for meaning can often seem as a daunting task in our busy schedules in wanting to become something which we are not. This can be for social acceptance or for external validation.  Some psychological studies have however made searching for meaning more manageable by narrowing down to three dimensions —coherence, purpose and significance as the elements that we need to gain a healthy sense of meaning in life. 

In other words, meaningful life is one where one leads a significant life, with right purpose and a coherent plan to pursue that purpose. All this however is possible only with the knowledge of self. Since everyone has their own idea of what meaningful work is, what’s meaningful to you might not be the same for someone else. Only when you know who you really are that you can truly envision the right purpose and true meaning in life. Without the proper understanding of your own self, you remain restricted to the way others perceive you or the way world sees you. 

This is the reason many of us have gotten used to defining ourselves in terms of possessions that feel like extensions of our own self. They are all things that are external to us. And identifying yourself with your worldly self, or the way others perceive you, you can never be able to find what really it is to live meaningfully means for you. Any search of finding meaning or what makes our lives more meaningful has to start with an inward quest. With awareness of our real self, we find our purpose. With enlightened self, we find the true meaning. So therefore allowing your true self to seek meaning begins with controlling your perception of life. 

Meaning, purpose and goals 

There are so many demands on our time and focus that if we don’t become clear on what our primary goals are we’ll end up trapped, going around in cycles doing work that makes us feel unfulfilled. 

When aspiring for a fulfilled life, it might make more sense to look for things you find more meaningful. Having meaningful goals imparts emotional significance. Since meaning doesn’t exist on its own and it is something we create, it is important to live with intention and prioritise your highest values above everything else. 

An intention to live a meaningful life can be a motivation to having a right purpose. This can further motivate you to create goals that take you in the right direction. An inward urge to find meaning fuels right purpose that connects you to the bigger perspective. When you become overly focused only on your daily tasks or goals, you can lose sight of your bigger purpose. It is only when your purpose, meaning and actions align, whatever you do becomes significant.

choices based on values make your life more meaningful 

Our values are however central to who we are. They are the foundation of how we think, act and feel. They bring meaning into our lives and are the basis for the choices we make in life. They are more like direction we take in life towards a meaningful life. Inspite of experiencing disappointments, regrets, conflicts, or losses in your life, having values doesn’t take away your life’s purpose or meaning. 

Identifying values that drive you most create more meaning. Some people value social cohesion, some knowledge and creative endeavours while others value service to others or helping/giving. No matter what yours are, having goals that reflect your values allows you to connect to your unique self and help you make wise choices in any situation. Not syncing them on the other hand leads to dissatisfaction, resentment and frustration. Whereas being guided by values.

To-Do

  • Discern what is important to you. Make a list of your priority values. Write down your top five things that you believe are the essence of how you want to live your life. Reflect on your deeply held values that you want to base your most important life choices on. And then go onto Invest your time and energy into activities and people that help you fulfil those.
  • Regularly take time to self-reflect to raise your level of awareness. When you focus your attention on yourself, you can relate to  your true self rather than your worldly or perceived self. Start small and take ten minutes everyday to reflect on your choices, values and attitudes. Remain mindful of what you do and your actions to connect to what makes meaningful. 
  • Identify what you are passionate about to create a list of goals that you find fulfilling and meaningful. Gain clarity as to what type of work inspires you the most and what jobs or activities allow you to pursue your interests. Setting goals you are passionate to achieve provide you with a sense of direction that will help you find more meaning. 
  • Discover your purpose to articulate meaning in life. Connect what you are doing to a meaningful or bigger purpose. These tasks can range from creative pursuits to inventing or building meaningful relationships. You can invest your time in lending a helping hand to people in need or in growing and learning new things. 
  • Simplify your life. Most often, we focus on many things or seek more in order to feel valued, accepted or more successful. In the process, we lose touch with our authentic self. But when you focus on being aware of yourself and your purpose, you can create more time and space for activities or tasks that give you a sense of meaning.

Moving ahead……

One can try and discover a meaning in life by doing things in alignment with their deeply held values. Instead of aspiring for a well-lived life, pursue goals that you find more meaningful or purposeful. Look beyond your limited beliefs to draw meaning from goals in larger context and that with bigger perspectives. Once you are aware of your true self, your motivations, preferences and priorities, it becomes more challenging to justify misusing your time doing anything other than meaningful pursuits. 

The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her own life.”

Victor Frankl

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