The Soft Underbelly of Disappointment
We all know what disappointment feels like. And it ain't good. It's kind of like a combination of confusion, betrayal, and anger. Some part of the world was supposed to be different than it turned out to be and we don't like that. Often we look around to see who's to blame. Somebody has not done their job properly and we are suffering for it.
Disappointment is a very hard and harsh emotion. It can instantly fill our entire being and dominate our feelings for very long periods of time. One can easily think of mothers and fathers whose disappointment in their children lasts into their deaths. Love affairs that move out of harmony often engender great disappointment, even to the point of life-long grief. Politicians encounter severe disappointment in some of their constituents no matter what they do.
But major feelings of disappointment can arise with trivial events as well. A restaurant that is out of your favorite food, just missing the bus, someone not answering their phone all can be the source of feelings of disappointment, feelings that can color the rest of the day. And these feelings seem to come out of nowhere, incredibly fast. One minute you're on top of the world and the next minute your world has just fallen out from beneath you. What happened?
To start with, let's look at disappointment from a wider perspective. We all create versions of the world in order to fit all the bazillion pieces of life together in a way that makes some sense. Without using tools like meaning and logic we would be disoriented and confused all the time. Life would be a random series of experiences that had no relationship with one another and we would have no sense of our place in all of this. So by finding a way to connect events, we build a model in our minds of how the world "works." Call it "the natural order of things" or just how things happen, these models become our rules of reality.
As we build our sense of order in our lives we quite naturally incorporate our expectations into our life view. Our expectations become integrated into the fabric of our personal world order. We expect the road to continue on the other side of the hill. We expect the food we buy at the store to be safe. We expect the laws of physics to be immutable. It is so easy to forget that these expectations, concepts of the arrangement of things and events, are our own creation. We have decided that this is how things are or ought to be. Perhaps these ideas are based on patterns we have seen, but they may just as easily be taken from our desires and the imagined fulfillment of those desires.
So when we find that our expectations or our desires aren't fulfilled to our liking we may feel disappointed. However, every aspect of this feeling is of our own choosing. We chose to expect. Our desire arose and we chose to hold onto that desire. And even more importantly, we chose how we reacted to the unfulfilled expectation or desire. We are completely responsible for how we react to anything. And the feeling of disappointment that feels so bad is the result of our choice to not like what we are now experiencing!
Rather than saying that our mental arrangement of the universe is flawed, we blame someone else for their negligence or stupidity. We can feel angry or hurt or any number of feelings, but they all originate with our decision to not like what we are encountering. But what we often overlook is that we have brought these feelings on, and that can change!
This is the soft underbelly of disappointment, the vulnerable spot on this powerful dragon - we have done it to ourselves. And we can do things differently if we want to have a different emotional experience. If we like, we can choose to view life from the adventurer's perspective and say that we don't really know what happens next, that our sense of the order of things is only a working theory, and that the unexpected is what is really significant to our growth and expansion. We can dissolve disappointment instantly by changing how we react to unpredicted events. We can choose to be delighted at the surprise or the new opportunity to explore something different. If it's comfort or love we were expecting we can use the moment to find those things within ourselves. If it's mechanical things that don't work the way we expect, then we can use that moment to relax and enjoy the pleasures of the things that do work. If it is something that someone has done that was not what we wanted, then we can admire the miracle of free will and enjoy what this person has decided to present to us. Every instance of disappointment is an opportunity to reorder our world to one that brings us more joy, not less. It is our choice!
This article was inspired by something Serge said in a recent Talk Story. He pointed out that since disappointment is the choice to not like something, when we hesitate to do something because we are afraid of being disappointed, it's saying, "I'm afraid I might choose to not like something." And as Serge said, "That just doesn't make any sense."
Stewart Blackburn is an Alakai of Huna International living on the Big Island of Hawaii. For more information on his work, visit his website, Stewart Blackburn: Shaman of Pleasure.