Thinking Yourself Happy: Beware of High Expectations

Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus


Brad worked as a factory supervisor. He expected his employees to start work on time, to avoid dallying around the coffee pot, and to observe the proper lunch breaks.  He cut his workers little slack.  He was not a perfectionist but his excessive expectations landed him in hot water. Those who worked for him saw Brad as a source of stress and they presented upper management with a signed petition asking that he be replaced.


Note the difference between perfectionism, which is also an unfortunate trait, and excessive expectations.  If Brad were a perfectionist, he would have insisted that his workers turn out perfect products.  This was not his problem.  His high expectations were not tied to achievement or performance but centered on clock-watching demands, and his rigid sense of productive time vs. wasted time.

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Here are some other examples: When Don told Celia exactly what he expected from a wife, his expectations struck her as so demanding and petty that she broke off the engagement there and then – and had a lucky escape.  Janice expected her husband to remember her birthday and their wedding anniversary, as well as the birthdays and anniversaries of her three sisters.  Tom expected other people always to be punctual, and he became irate when they kept him waiting.  Sally was deeply hurt when her son and daughter-in-law did not invite her for Christmas; she had expected to be invited.

• The fewer expectations you have, the less upset and disappointed you will be.

One wise individual remarked: “I try not to expect anything from anyone.  That way, I rarely feel hurt, upset, let down, disillusioned, or disappointed.  I have also learned not to expect too much from myself.”

• The key question to ask yourself is whether you are being unreasonable in your desires and expectations.

If there is any doubt in your mind, ask a close friend to give you an objective opinion.Unreasonable expectations lead to disappointment, letdowns and unhappiness.  Reasonable expectations set the stage for success, satisfaction and optimum performance.


Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus is a licensed psychologist, Co-founder and Clinical Director of The Lazarus Institute. In addition to his general psychotherapy practice, Dr. Clifford Lazarus specializes in health and neuropsychology.

Dr. Clifford Lazarus received his B.A., M.S., and Ph.D. in psychology from Rutgers University where he was a Henry Rutgers Research Scholar.  Seen here are excerpts from one of his books, The 60-Second Shrink – 101 Strategies For Staying Sane In a Crazy World, a book, he co-authored with his father “One of the ten most influential psychotherapists in America”  Arnold A. Lazarus, Ph.D.  For more details on Dr. Clifford Lazarus visit this link to The Lazarus Institute.  Or visit his page here on

Books available at Amazon by Arnold and Clifford Lazarus

Direct links to two highly recommended books by Dr. Clifford Lazarus & Dr. Arnold A. Lazarus:

The 60-Second Shrink: 101 Strategies for Staying Sane in a Crazy World 

Don’t Believe It for a Minute!: Forty Toxic Ideas That Are Driving You Crazy

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