The Key to Happiness

This week, as we continue in the season of Advent, we focus on “expecting well” throughout the many seasons of life.

By: Emily Borman

A Quick Google search suggests that the key to happiness in life is to manage our expectations well. Reality is often less than your expectations and If you lower your expectations, you will not be disappointed are two themes of advice offered by more than one self-help article.

In my own home, I often ask my family members to “set my expectations.” By that I mean I can handle most circumstances as long as I know what they are. For example, if my husband knows he is going to be late for dinner, and he alerts me, then I can make sure the meal doesn’t suffer. I’ll either delay dinnertime or I will go ahead with dinner and set a plate aside for him. However if he texts me 10 minutes after dinnertime to say that he will be 30 minutes late, dinner usually suffers.

Advent - Expecting

Most of us can probably identify with this wisdom of the world on expectations to a certain degree. I know I can. However, this morning I came across a quote from Saint John of the Cross that served as a reminder to keep worldly wisdom in check.

The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. The soul has to proceed rather by unknowing rather than knowing.

–Saint John of the Cross

I know I don’t completely understand Saint John of the Cross, but when I read this, I thought: “If I allow my expectations to be mired down in what I know, the natural, I risk missing what I don’t know, the supernatural. I risk missing God.”

God very thoughtfully provided me with an experience yesterday morning to reinforce this. I arrived to work early and had great expectations of a very productive morning. I was ready to roll up my sleeves and get a lot done. Before I got started, I walked into the hallway to use the restroom and left my badge to get back into the office on my desk. Yes, I locked myself out. I spent the next 30 minutes waiting before a colleague arrived and let me in.


I waited, and watched as the minutes began to slip by. As each moment passed, I wondered how on earth I would accomplish everything I needed to do if someone didn’t let me into the office soon. My expectations were finite and focused on what I could or could not accomplish this morning. After 10 minutes, I began to pray and heard our Lord whisper that I was meant to spend this time with Him. I was a little surprised to hear Him, probably because my expectations were focused on my task list, to the exclusion of our Lord’s presence.

If I look at my morning experience in terms of the natural world, I’m disappointed because I didn’t achieve my expectations. But if I allow expectations to encompass the supernatural, I find God.

Let me explain. As I stood there, locked out and waiting, I prayed. As I prayed, it occurred to me that I was supposed to be spending this time with God instead of scurrying around getting things done. God the Father, all powerful and ever-living, wanted me to spend time with Him and I was so busy meeting the expectations of my material world that I almost missed Him. I spent that time in peace with our Lord. His supernatural presence assured me that my time was well spent and that He would help me accomplish whatever He thought needed to be done today.

Yes, it’s useful to have your badge to access your office. And it’s useful to have our expectations grounded in reality, but at the same time they should be rooted in hope, in the coming of our supernatural God. And that is the true key to happiness.

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3 thoughts on “The Key to Happiness

  1. A lot to ponder here. I have four very young children, so I have learned to set my expectations very low, and I am very happy! I do have a problem with worrying, though, which comes from a reluctance to accept the fact that so many things are out of my control. I’m working on that.

  2. This is a lovely piece. It’s a fine line between setting low expectations and blocking out hope and the chance to see God in the unexpected. I love your perspective on this. Thanks for sharing!

  3. So often, God uses these annoyances to remind me that I need his help and his love in my life. I admire how quickly you were able to see the situation of being locked out as an opportunity for connection with God. Blessings to you as we approach Christmas!

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