Managing Happiness Expectations

If you Google “Happiness is” you will find approximately 184.000.000 results. Almost all of those results are subjective. They can vary from health, to having friends, to family or puppies. Everyone has their own definition of the term that comes with a unique set of expectations.

For instance, some people define happiness as a 48h state of mind which occurs in a day at the workplace, with some great coffee and intelligent conversation. Other people might imagine the complete opposite, like having only 4 working hours a day, by themselves, with a glass of wine.

In his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie points out that “it isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it”.

Depending on your own definition of workplace happiness you’ll develop your list of expectations from your team or from your manager. In all cases, both parts have to manage the expectations of the other, by considering the two sides of the coin:

1. Your happiness is in your own hands

Also known as “Rule no.1” in Happiness. Yes, it’s scientifically proven and yes, it reinforces the notion that your satisfaction is as big as you allow it to be. If you’re grateful for your current workplace, proud of your results and eager to do better, then you’re happy with your job. Same goes for managers.

But this is the ideal case, in which you are aware of the power only you hold over your happiness. However, in real life, that’s almost impossible to achieve because you always have expectations. You expect your team members to fulfil their weekly responsibilities, just as you expect your manager to value the work you’ve put in.

So what happens when they don’t? Either you ask them to mold their behavior according to your expectations of them or you lower your expectations. Never an easy choice.

What you can do is step back and make a conscious decision of answering this question: “Is it in my power to change how I’m feeling right now?” If the answer is yes, you’ve made the mature and responsible choice of controlling your own happiness. If you feel like you have no control over the external factor that made you feel this way, try dealing with that factor. Your expectations may be valid and it certainly entitles you to try to have them met. Just know that controlling an external factor is very difficult, especially if that factor is a person’s behavior.

 2. Your happiness depends on others

The second approach to managing expectations is the complete opposite. Based on the Pygmalion effect, or Rosenthal effect, the greater the expectation placed upon people, the better they perform. Named after Pygmalion, a play by George Bernard Shaw, this phenomenon argues against the “first rule” of happiness. It basically says that your workplace happiness can be in the hands of the people who project their expectations on to you.If they expect you to perform, you will meet their expectations and be satisfied with your work. And if they expect you to fail, or to stagnate, you will.

My initial reaction was: wow, that’s pretty hard to manage, how can you change what others expect of you? Well, you can. Their expectations are based on two things: their view of how you should behave and your past behavior. Just like an algorithm, they judge you based on your past choices and they predict how you’re going to perform. If you’ve missed more than half of your deadlines or you tend to skip on fulfilling your promises, that’s what will be expected of you, forcing you to follow this pattern.

What you can do is carefully identify and analyze these patterns and see if you want to keep them. Are they triggering the right expectations of you? Once more, it comes down to you. You are in control of what others expect of you.


Oftentimes, expectations are a cause for conflict. That’s why they need to be expressed very clearly, discussed and agreed upon.

You can do this at the beginning of every project or at the beginning of every month. Ask your teammates and your manager what they expect of you, and vice versa, and set a clear, actionable way of managing those expectations. This way you can be in control of how you’re feeling and you can manage your own happiness.


Image via under C.C.0 license