“My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21. Everything since then has been a bonus.” -Stephen Hawking

Who is happier, a poor medieval peasant or a rich modern banker? As Yuval Harari points out in, “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” (which Bill Gates named as one of his favorite books this year): it depends on expectations.

If the peasant wants a bullock-cart and gets one while the banker wants a Lamborghini but gets stuck with a Ferrari then the peasant would actually be happier.

Researchers recently set out to determine why Denmark is the happiest country. They found that the reason the Danes are so satisfied is that, compared to people in other countries, they consistently have the lowest expectations for the future.

This seems counter-intuitive. Isn’t pessimism a bad thing?

Optimism is confidence that things will turn out the way you want. Thus, it is possible to have low expectations and still be highly optimistic they will be met.

For instance, my hope in writing this quote is that it makes a positive contribution to just one person’s day. Not high expectations. And I am optimistic that at least my mom will enjoy reading it 😉

How might you move closer to the intersection of low expectation and high optimism in your own life?


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