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What you expect from life is crucially important, but how is this measured? A leading measure of how well a society is doing touches upon expectations. Well-being is correlated with how many people report that they are thriving, and you'd expect that in prosperous developed countries, a healthy percentage of people think they are thriving. However, very few societies can boast one-third of their population reaching this level. Which means that for many, expectations have fallen very far short.
If you look at your own life, where do you stand with your expectations? I think the answer for most people focuses on three areas: money, family, and relationships. If you are in a happy marriage or partnership, surrounded by a happy family, and free from financial problems, you probably count yourself very lucky. So many people fall sort of these goals, and few are so fulfilled that they'd consider themselves to be thriving.
Yet from a different perspective, one that looks from the inside out, these externals markers shouldn't be our measure of fulfillment. In reality, almost all the causes of frustration, lack of fulfillment, and the feeling of being stuck are due to one thing: low expectations. Psychological studies have consistently shown that earning more money, beyond feeling fairly comfortable, doesn't lead to greater happiness. In fact, seeing yourself in terms of money, possessions, status, and career success is the same as selling yourself woefully short—your inner potential still needs to be awakened.
Measures for Fulfillment
Here are some goals that bring growing fulfillment over a lifetime:
- Finding out who you really are.
- Expanding your awareness every day.
- Living according to a higher vision.
- Giving of yourself to others.
- Following your own truth.
- Being a model for your children to live up to.
- Exploring the spiritual dimension of life.
- Setting a difficult, meaningful goal and achieving it.
- Becoming a master at an art or craft.
- Acting as a mentor to the young and/or disadvantaged.
- Delving into the world's wisdom traditions.
By these measures, which are time-honored and time-tested, countless modern people who consider themselves well-off have barely begun to discover what they can really achieve. Despite economic ups and downs, we live in astonishingly prosperous times by any historical measure. The sages, saints, and spiritual guides of the great traditions would look at our situation and expect us to evolve in our inner life, not endlessly pursue more things driven by blind consumerism. In India, the choice has always been between Vidya (spiritual knowledge) and Avidya (ignorance of spiritual knowledge). The same fork in the road exists today, in every society.
It may be too simple to say that raising your expectations leads to happiness while lowering them leads to unhappiness. Life is too unpredictable for that. But for centuries the inner path has been extolled as the best thing about being human. Therefore, it isn't simplistic to say that for someone who hasn't explored the inner path, the bar of expectations has been set much too low.
If you have ever asked yourself who you really are, or what you truly want in life, we invite you to join Deepak Chopra and our Chopra Center master educators for our 6-day meditation and yoga retreat, Seduction of Spirit. Seduction of Spirit is a rare opportunity to step away from the constant demands on our attention and dive into the stillness and silence that flows beneath life's surface. Click here to learn more.