We humans are hard-wired to expect the best, which is the principal reason that we are chronically disappointed.

We try to avoid the pessimists who come our way, seeking instead people with expectations more likely to be realized.

Who does not prefer associating with people who smile, who look on life with reasonable eyes, people who are satisfied.

Often we expect the best because that is what we were promised or at least what we thought sensible to anticipate. Because we change the sheets on our bed at least once a week, we assume that is the norm. Being involved with grandchildren going to college, living apart from us and from their parents, we assume they will behave sensibly and predictably and change and wash their bedclothes regularly. We should know better, but we are appalled to find that they never change and wash their sheets, they just throw them away, gray and stiff, at the end of each semester and beg for more. And we fools give it to them and pretend we do not know the truth. 

An ordinary hardcover novel recently published and by a well-known author, sells for between $25 and $30, even the 400-page-long ones. We naturally assume that college textbooks will be a little more expensive, so we budget $50 to $60 per book. A grandchild taking 15 hours needs about 5 books, that is $300, on the outside. We are seized with wonder and not a little bit of apprehension when we get a bill for more than twice that much, per semester. There’s always the slightest concern that not all of the money, deposited to a grandchild’s bank account, is going for books, and we secretly hope it’s for sex and not drugs, so mature we have grown. Some of that is disappointed expectations, but most of it is just ordinary ignorance of how expensive everything has become. 

Living in a illusory world, full of great expectations and high hopes, is probably impossible to avoid completely (it is for me), but we can take a shot at reality and try to adjust what we expect to conform more truly to what we are likely to get. If we are successful, we will live more predictable and probably, happier lives, but we will still be far from the equanimity promised by being in control of our lives and passions, and we will be predictably surprised by astounding requests for unaccounted expenses from the children and grandchildren we thought we had properly helped to raise.

Melvyn Schreiber is a physician at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Melvyn Schreiber’s essays are now available as a paperback book (without the book reviews and opera reviews). If you want one, send $15 to him at 12 E. Dansby, Galveston, TX 77551, and he will mail a copy to you. It’s not heavy enough to press your trousers with, but it may please you in other ways.

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