How to be Happy When Life Doesn’t Go as Planned – On the Trail, in Camp, and in Life, Expectations Often Obscure Reality

Expectations often become the anchors for how we evaluate opportunities and our own sense of happiness. They also make us fixate on what could or should have been, not what’s right in front of us.1 When reality doesn’t line up with our expectations, unhappiness, bitterness, and anxiety follow.2 These negative feelings can intensify when we sense uncertainty.3 We get anxious about our hopes, goals, and dreams for the future when we feel like everything is unpredictable.4

In spite of all that, it’s not impossible to be happy when life throws us a curveball and the future seems uncertain. So, how can we find joy when things feel chaotic? Gratitude.

When we’re grateful, we can let go of our expectations. That leads to greater happiness and satisfaction, no matter how uncertain the present is—or the future may be.5

 

How to Be More Grateful and Happier: Six Questions to Ask Yourself

 

  1. Photo by Robert Eversole

    What is a magical memory you have from the past year?

We instinctively focus more on the negative than the positive. When times are tough, we expect the worst. To see things in a more positive light, we have to consciously set aside the negativity.6 Recalling happy memories is a quick way to do that. Even remembering a simple act of kindness can make you feel happier.7

My magical memory is watching the sun rise with my wife Celeste from a ridge overlooking the Haney Meadow Horse Camp.

 

  1. How has your perspective changed over the past year?

Think about the interactions, experiences, or people who have changed the way you think about something recently. Consider what you’ve learned.

Change and uncertainty can test our strength and character. How we stand up to the challenge may not just change our perspectives. It can also keep us be grounded and spark personal growth.8

Bringing a new critter into a fresh job as an honest mule has challenged us in many ways—all of them for the better for Cocoa and myself.

 

  1. What do you take for granted?

It’s natural to take things for granted as we get used to them, even if they matter a lot to us. If we don’t take time to appreciate them while we have them, though, we may never get the chance.

Writer Robert Brault may have said it best with this: “Enjoy the little things in life because one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things.”

The mules coming to me unbidden while I clean the paddock is a daily blessing. They have no expectation of food and are just saying hello as I clean. It makes me smile.

 

  1. Photo by Robert Eversole

    What do you want to remember from this period of your life?

“We do not remember days; we remember moments.” These words from Cesare Pavese ring true if you’re in your 20s, your 90s, or anywhere in between.

Whether you’re starting your career, raising kids, or enjoying retirement, recognize the good moments that are shaping this phase of your life. If you do, you’ll enjoy them far more as they’re happening.

Watching Celeste as we hand-graze the mules in a high mountain meadow at dusk.

 

  1. What experiences have you had that you’re grateful for?

Some experiences create memories that last a lifetime. Family dinners, vacations, celebrations, major life milestones, and once-in-a-lifetime moments can shape us forever and for the better.9 They can also have positive impact on the way we learn, see the world, and respond to unknown situations in the future.10

The opportunity to lead a pack string into the Pasayten Wilderness with Celeste. And a week with her in a remote area away from the worries of civilization, surrounded by our equine family of mules and horse.

 

  1. What do you feel lucky to have that some others do not?

This doesn’t have to be extravagant. It can be simple, like some treasured part of your day or week. It can also be unique and intangible, like a relationship you have with a friend, sibling, child, or spouse. In fact, these close relationships are the key to fulfillment and long-term happiness. Appreciating how special they are can help you make them stronger while bringing you more satisfaction.11

To be able to share my experiences with people from around the country and the world. Helping them gain the skills and confidence to achieve their dreams of trail riding and camping with their animals.

 

The Message: When Tomorrow is Uncertain, Have Gratitude for Today 

Photo by Robert Eversole

It’s impossible to predict the future. Still, many of us try—even during uncertain times—and we’re disappointed when our predictions don’t pan out.12 That can make life less enjoyable and more stressful than it has to be. It can also blind us to the value of what we already have.1

Gratitude can counteract that. It helps us let go of negative emotions so we can enjoy what we have now. In unpredictable times, gratitude can do much more. It can empower us to handle stress better and recover from adversity faster.13

In the big picture, practicing gratitude lets you appreciate what truly matters in the moment. That goes a long way toward improving your perspective, self-esteem, and overall sense of happiness. It can also enhance and enrich your life.14

As a clinician, writer, and educator I know how challenging uncertainty can be. That’s why I work to provide the guidance and approaches my readers need to stay on the trail, so they can focus on enjoying the things they are truly grateful for.

If you’re overwhelmed because the year feels off track—or if you’re looking for a voice of reason during uncertain times, we’re here for you at www.TrailMeister.com. We’re grateful for you.

 

 

SOURCES

1 – www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/cui-bono/201802/the-psychology-expectations

2 – https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/the-subconscious-mind-of-the-consumer-and-how-to-reach-it

3 – https://dash.harvard.edu/handle/1/3153298

4 – www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4276319/

5 – www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier

6 – www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3652533/

7 – https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_memories_of_kindness_can_make_you_happy

8 – www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-power-prime/201201/personal-growth-four-obstacles-positive-life-change 

9 – www.princeton.edu/news/2005/03/10/studies-relate-life-experiences-brain-structure

10 – www.ucdavis.edu/news/how-experience-changes-basics-memory-formation/

11 – www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier

12 – www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/future-trends/201808/why-do-we-think-so-much-the-future

13 – https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_gratitude_is_good

14 – https://ggsc.berkeley.edu/images/uploads/GGSC-JTF_White_Paper-Gratitude-FINAL.pdf

 

See this article in the 2021 February online edition:

February 2021

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