What is dissatisfaction? It is the negative gap between how we think life should be and how it actually is. Our notions of how life should be are set by our expectations. Unfortunately there are many influencers who would wish to set our expectations, and not least our parents, teachers, peers, and even society in general. As if this expectation setting is not bad enough we also have expectations set by religious, self-help, and spiritual people and traditions; but more on this later.
Perhaps the most erroneous expectation is the expectation that we should be happy. As Schopenhauer states so well in his master-work, The World as Will and Representation:
There is only one inborn error, and that is the notion that we exist in order to be happy.
There are many, many events that can cause unhappiness; financial distress, poor health, death of a loved one, damaging relationships. At any one time it is highly likely that at least one of these states is causing unhappiness, and happiness can only occur when everything is going well; a state that is much less likely. So, the expectation that we should be happy runs contra to the reality of life, namely that we will be unhappy much of the time. This will of course be a source of almost constant dissatisfaction.
Our dissatisfaction is a marketing executives dream come true. Because of our fundamentally flawed understanding of the nature of our existence we are suckers for anyone selling the latest promise of unending happiness. This might be a new gadget, fashionable shoes, a fast motor car, the next relationship, a dream vacation, and so on. Compared with the pains we experience in life these pleasures are truly trivial. The death of a loved one, a long lasting painful disease, poverty, betrayal; all of these things destroy any petty pleasures got from the fashionable pair of shoes or the dream vacation.
The notion that we exist in order to be happy is the root of much of our dissatisfaction. There are however much more insidious influences that might amplify our dissatisfaction. This notion that we can find a land of milk and honey is heavily promoted by religions and spiritual traditions. Salvation, moksha, enlightenment, samadhi, oneness, bliss, are all states where complete satisfaction and happiness are guaranteed; little wonder the charlatans advertising these wares are experiencing a boom in business. Millions of people spend their hard earned cash chasing the elusive butterflies that spiritual and religious folk promise. The result for many people who buy this fakery is deep frustration, disillusionment, and anger. The promises of enlightenment and such made by the charlatans is deeply damaging, and is not some innocent play.
The term “expectation management” sounds like the kind of thing that might come from a life coach, a therapist, or the latest self-help guide. We are not talking about what might be seen as a “politically correct” form of expectation management here; we are talking about something much more brutal and transformative.
Let’s list some realities about our existence:
- We die.
- Life is itself a process of decay.
- During most of our lives we will be unhappy, meaning some important aspect of our life will be causing pain.
- The natural and perfectly normal sentiment between people is hatred. This might take the form of envy, emotional or physical violence, theft, or any of a hundred other ways people diminish each other.
- Every attempt to find some kind of satisfaction will fail.
Given this background we can adopt a strategy that minimizes and might even eliminate our dissatisfaction. Here is an outline of the strategy:
- Remember that you will always be dissatisfied until you fully accept that you will always be dissatisfied. The word “remember” is very important because we forget, hypnotized by the next shiny thing that promises nirvana.
- Be watchful, and develop the ability to sense when your expectations are being raised. These expectations will cause you to strive to acquire the thing that offers eternal bliss. The higher your expectation, the more eagerly you will strive for a thing, and the more dissatisfied you will be.
- We conquer dissatisfaction when we banish expectations from our inner life and realize that we will always be dissatisfied.
- A special word about spiritual poison. Spiritual folk condition themselves and others with many “shoulds”. You should behave this way and not that, you should feel this thing and not that, you should think one way and not another way. Naturally this creates a basket of expectations, most of which will not be fulfilled. A spiritual person might take the notion that we want to banish expectations from our inner life as a “should”. This is the poison of religious and spiritual conditioning.