Recently I went to the bank with an envelope of rent money from a tenant. I wasn’t anticipating anything much from the errand other than ticking an item off my to-do list.

But when I got to the teller and began to pull bills from the envelope, I realized I had more money than I’d expected—the tenant had paid rent that was due and also given me an advance on the next few months.

When I left the bank, I was thrilled. The numbers weren’t big—I hadn’t won the lottery!—but the gap between my expectations and reality was enough to make me feel as though I’d won large sums of money.

I know many psychologists speak to this: that if you set your expectations at a certain level, say $500, and receive $1000, you’re delighted; if you are expecting $2000 and receive the same $1000, you will be disappointed.

The lesson for me is certainly not to expect nothing so I’ll never be disappointed; we can have big goals for the future, we can want more, and we can use our dissatisfaction as the impetus to move toward making change in our lives. But if I live my life expecting more and never getting it, I know I’ll be constantly dissatisfied.

What I’m learning is to keep myself finely tuned to contentment and gratitude—to notice all the good things in my life even as I have goals and aspirations. I’m grateful for the peonies lasting so long this year; I’m thrilled by supper with a friend or the smallest gift. And the more I notice the good things in my life, the more they seem to appear. Is this a trick of attitude or something deeper? Either way, it’s a pleasant way to go through life.

I don’t want to get rid of my ambition. Instead, I want to manage to be content with less while continuing to want more—it’s a paradox, but I’m learning to say “It would be nice if…” while also appreciating my here and now. At the bank, my expectations were lower than my reality and I ended up feeling happy at my good fortune; if expectations and reality were reversed, it may have led to dissatisfaction.

So my goal is to continue to look at what’s around me, be content with what I’m so lucky to have. I’ll continue to be grateful for things that surpass what I expect, and continue to be happy with what life brings my way.


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