Whether or not we are satisfied with an experience or event depends a great deal upon what our expectations were ahead of time. If the experience meets or exceeds our expectations, we are happy; if it does not, we are disappointed.
In my life and work with intentional communities, I have noticed that those who are most disappointed with community life are those who expected something close to utopia: the gap between that vision and the reality of living & working with real, flawed human beings is uncomfortably large.
I find it helpful to remind myself – and others – that if we are dissatisfied with something, it can be useful to look at what we are comparing it to. Recently, when I heard some neighbors talking about aspects of our community life that aren’t working, they seemed to be comparing our current situation with either a utopian vision or some phase in our collective past. Of course, we’re different now: members have come and gone, our children have grown, we have aged, our buildings and landscape have aged….should things look the same now as they did “back when?” Perhaps it would benefit us to find new comparisons.
Yesterday, as part of a reflection on our past, present, and future, I took the group through a guided visualization of our daily lives BEFORE we moved into the community. Comparing the richness of community life with the isolation many had felt before moving here shifted the mood from one of frustration with small details to one of appreciation and celebration for the gifts we share.
Sometimes we can increase our happiness by managing our expectations.