The London Olympics came to an end a few days ago, and watching the results over the two weeks, I found it fascinating to note the differences in the happiness of some of the medal winners compared to others.

It might seem normal that a gold medal winner would be happier than the winner of the silver, who in turn would be happier than the recipient of the bronze.

But there are of course many more things at play. For example, someone who had been expected to bring home gold would be disappointed with anything else, and someone who was not even on anyone’s radar for medal contention would likely be thrilled with a bronze.

Then there are differences in what country you represent. The USA team and many of their fans seem to believe that if you do not win the gold, then you are simply an also-ran. In contrast, Canadians almost always take great pride in taking home the Bronze.

So, is there anything wrong with this picture? We can all look at these differences and draw our own conclusions. Personally, I have no problem with any of them, as they are debatable, explainable, and rational in their own ways. What they all come down to in the end, of course, is the level of EXPECTATION.

Of all the things that go into one’s happiness, I believe that one’s expectation level plays a huge role, larger than most people would even think to believe. I want to break this down into three areas: 1) self-expectations, 2) family/friends/colleagues, and 3) outside of our control.

We have the most control over our own personal expectations, but some people take this to the extreme and are too hard on themselves when they fail to live up to some of their hopes and dreams. I can still picture some of the Olympians crying on the podium because they were not on the top step. Again, that is neither good or bad, just an observation. Perhaps they would not have even made the team if they did not have such focus and belief in their ability to shoot for the top step.

Obviously the other extreme of not having high enough expectations for yourself can have consequences that lead to disappointment as well. If you never push yourself to achieve anything, or think that you are not good enough to accomplish anything worthwhile, then you are not likely to achieve of accomplish much at all.

As for those people around us, anyone who has children knows how important it is to instill in them some kind of desire to find areas in their lives where they can focus on achieving great things, and encouraging them to do their best. We set up an expectation level in them, which goes a long way into how they grow up and where they should focus their priorities. How we help them deal with failures along the way also shapes them in fundamental ways. Helping them revise their expectations based on their abilities as they grow up becomes one of the most important tasks of any parent.

Outside of our immediate family there are other family members, friends, and coworkers that we deal with on a regular basis. Without getting into too much detail, let me just say that having realistic expectations with respect to what they can and will do for us is important if we do not want to continually be disappointed. There is a limit to how much control you can exert on most others.

When it comes to employees or professionals, however, I believe that it is important to raise the expectations bar. If you are paying people, you need to hold them accountable for what you are getting in return for the money you shell out. Often easier said than done, since there are usually negatives that arise from making changes in these areas, but constantly paying people who never seem to stop disappointing you will surely wear you down in the long run.

Lastly, there are the things over which we have no control, or at least very little. The weather, the economy, the stock market, and politics all come to mind.  I don’t think there is any better way to end this blog than with the serenity prayer, which summarizes many of my feelings:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Amen to that!