I recently watched the movie Beauty and the Beast. The protagonist, Belle, longs for something more than the provincial life she lives in Villeneuve. When she gets to venture out of her village to rescue her father from Beast’s castle, her dream is fulfilled. She reaches the palace and frees her father. However, her father’s freedom comes at a price–Belle has to take his place as a prisoner. So, she gets to live in Beast’s magnificent palace, albeit without her freedom. She’s allowed to move about within the castle, but not to meet her father back in the village. It takes Belle a good while to get used to her new reality, because leaving the province doesn’t work out quite as perfectly as she’d expected.
I’m sure many of us can relate to Belle’s situation. We imagine. We dream. We hope. But when life presents us with our wish, we don’t think it meets our expectations. And so, we feel disappointed. Economist and international development specialist Nat Ware, in his TEDx Talk Why we’re unhappy–the expectation gap, explains, “At a very basic, simple level, we’re unhappy when our expectations of reality exceed our experiences of reality.” Simply put, realistic outcomes barely ever match our fanciful hopes. He calls this an expectation gap.
“Expectations frequently guide our behaviour. While we can’t foresee our future, expectations can help us make plans and be prepared. They give us a sense of predictability.”
“We have a selection bias that compels our mind to expect only the best of scenarios. It’s what makes expectations unrealistic and relationships sour.”