How to Deal With Life’s Disappointments

Creative Commons License photo credit: leFroy

“Disappointment to a noble soul is what cold water is to burning metal; it strengthens, tempers, intensifies, but never destroys it.” – Eliza Tabor

Over the course of your life you will encounter many disappointments. Sometimes it will be a loved one who let’s you down. Sometimes it will be a work deal or a business meeting that doesn’t go as planned. Other times it will seem as if the whole universe is kicking you in the head just because it can.

If you want to live a happy and fulfilled life you need to learn how to deal with life’s disappointments. In this post I am going to talk about a few strategies that you can use next time you feel let down.

Are your expectations realistic?

Creative Commons License photo credit: snakemanrob

One of the first things you need to look at when you are feeling disappointed is whether or not your expectations were realistic. I want to tell you something that might sound quite radical:

It is your expectations that create your disappointment. Nothing else.

That’s right. It is your expectations that create the fertile ground for your disappointments to flourish. Although it might seem like your business partner let you down by not coming up with the goods it was, in actual fact, your expectations that led you to believe that this event would not occur.

The next time you feel disappointed by some situation I want you to take a few moments to look into your mind. Examine the situation and start to think about whether or not your expectations were realistic. I think you will find that, in almost all situations, your big disappointments will be caused by unrealistic expectations.

Should I have no expectations?
If you start to realize that your expectations are partly to blame it is natural to then think that perhaps you should have no expectations whatsoever. This is an interesting point that I would like to hear some discussion on as I am not completely sure of the answer myself. Should we have zero expectations or should we just try to be more realistic?

Is your reaction realistic?

Creative Commons License photo credit: videoplacebo is not

One thing I have noticed over the years is that my own mind is quite unrealistic when it comes to reacting to disappointment. Let me give you an example.

A few years ago I was in University doing a Business Degree in Commercial Law. During this degree we often had to form groups of two or three people in order to complete assignments. And over the years I had developed a consistent and fervent hatred of these group assignments – so much so that when the group project was announced at the start of the semester I would often groan out a loud.

The reason I hated these assignments was because I was always the one who ended up doing the work. People knew that I was keen to get good grades and as such they exploited that knowing that there was no way I was not going to pick up their slack.

One semester I was partnered with a girl from Hong Kong who was studying as an international student. We were doing a marketing assignment based on over six months of research and had to give a 20 minute presentation in the last week of class. The problem? She went AWOL the week before the presentation. No email. No note. Nothing. Gone.

I was livid. I wrote to the course coordinator but he said I would have to present by myself. I fumed for days and days and days. Literally. Everyone I talked to I mentioned how rotten this girl was. I told everyone how she left me high and dry to the point that I probably tarnished her name quite a bit.

Finally, a few days before the presentation, she came back. She looked dreadful. Her eyes were sunken and she looked really sick. She had just been diagnosed with cancer. She had been away from University because she had a breakdown.

I felt horrible. I still do.

Sometimes our reactions to disappointments are unrealistic. I went around campus badmouthing this girl because of a stupid marketing assignment! I worked myself up into a rage-filled ball of anger for days and days and in the end it turned out she was really sick. It was not her fault.

The next time you feel disappointed by someone make sure you check to see whether your reaction is justified. Did the person try their best? Did they really mean to hurt you? Is your frustration really necessary? Most of the times the answer is a resounding “no”.

Are you looking on the bright side?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Alexander Danling

The most important point of all when discussing the issue of disappointments is that it provides you with an opportunity to grow. Disappointments are life’s little testers – you can either let them break you down or you can use them as a tool for change.

Buddha and the bright side of disappointment
Let’s look at a concrete example from the life of Buddha Shakyamuni. After the Prince set off to begin his quest for enlightenment he spent several years living as a hardcore yogi. During these years the Buddha spent most of his time fasting and sitting in one place without moving.

One day, however, the Price realized that this extreme path was not going to bare any fruit and so he gave up that life in search of something more effective. He had spent years mastering a style of meditation that was not going to work.

Now most of us would view this as “wasted time”. We would curse the fact that we spent all those years and didn’t achieve anything. But the Prince moved on to new things. He knew that the time wasn’t wasted because without that work he would never have progressed to the next stage. Without it he would never have become the great man that has changed the lives of hundreds of millions throughout history.

Using disappointment to grow
We need to be more like the Buddha. We need to see disappointment as one step in a series of many that is leading to bigger and better things. If you choose to dwell on disappointment and curse the day that it happened you are going to get stuck. The wise use it as a catalyst for change.


I truly believe that the feeling of being let down by your partner or your Government or your work is a time to grow and change. I also feel that most of the time we ourselves are at least 50% to blame. I would love to hear your stories of disappointment and how you used that time in your life to either move forward or backwards. Please leave a comment and share with our community.

30 thoughts on “How to Deal With Life’s Disappointments

  1. I am with you 100% on this. I too feel that we are responsible, on some level, for the disappointments we endure. You call it expectations and I call it attachment. Attachment to an idea and how you think it should play out. When it doesn’t play out the way you wanted it to or anticipated it would or hoped it would then you will be disappointed.

    Nothing lasts, good or bad, so becoming attached to a thought or feeling isn’t necessarily a good thing as when it passes, or doesn’t pan out, you are potentially in for a world of hurt. A way to curb this is to live in the moment, right here right now, today and know deep down that it won’t last forever (good or bad). By setting this expectation you’re likely to be a little less disappointed when things don’t work out quite the way you had hoped.

  2. Your question about expectations is interesting. I think having no expectations is probably healthier, but difficult to do. If you do have expectations, I think it is important to not take things personally when you are disappointed.

  3. On the question of expectations, I’m going to have to agree with Roger. It is definitely healthier to have no expectations. It is difficult to do, but so is getting enough green-leafy vegetables, or cardio exercise… yet we should still try.

    The way to live without expectations is to realize that they are pointless. If we expect another person to behave or react a certain way, we are essentially deciding that they should behave the way WE would. It won’t take long to realize, this is rarely the case and we cant MAKE others do things our way.

    If we expect a certain outcome in life, or for plans to go a certain way, we are deluding ourselves into thinking we actually have control over a bunch of variables we really don’t control at all. It won’t take long to realize, “life is what happens while we are busy making other plans.” (John Lennnon)

    Once we accept that the variables we don’t control by far outweigh those we do, we will realize that every outcome is a surprise. It’s like having your birthday every day (some presents are better than others.)

  4. thank u for the nice artile
    i agree with most of what u have said

    i already feel that i have given up some expectations
    but here is what happened next…

    expectations is highly related with dreams and hopes
    so now i feel myself coping with what is actually happening ( with its evil ), but in the same time i feel like i don’t care much about my dreams or hopes,
    so if it comes, this will be good and if it didn’t, i’ll live with that not dissapointed as u said

    but in the same time i feel like i am losing passion to attain my dreams, i am not so excited for achieving them…
    and that is a REALLY big problem

    what do u think ?

  5. Great comments Lisis. I really think you are on to something. Once you logically realize that expectations are useless you will be less likely to have them. Nice work.


  6. That is a really interesting point Mountain.

    Let me see if I understand correctly – You feel like you are losing passion because you are trying not to have expectations?

  7. yes, that’s what i meant

    the way i adapt with the reality makes me not to hope for so much and not to dream so much ( i feel that hopes and dreams are some sort of expectations )
    thus i miss feeling passion about life and future to a high extent

  8. I think having expectations often will lead to disappointment. I think people do things thinking that their actions will guarantee them the result that they want. Sometimes it happens but sometimes it doesn’t.

    My motto is to do my best at the present moment for that is all I can do. I cannot change the past nor can I predict the future. By doing my best at the moment, I will be led to the next moment. That way whatever is the outcome, I can be at peace knowing I did my best.

    As for dealing with people that I love, there has to be no expectations because love has to be unconditional or it isn’t love. Of course, your partner should treat you with respct and there should be no abuse of any kind. People express love in different ways so to think that love has to look a certain way just seems too controlling.

    So it is wise to let go of expectations and just be. It can be done…it just takes time to retrain your brain (rhyme unintended)!

    Thanks so much for a great post!

  9. it is definitely possible to live without expectations. and quite easy to do, actually.
    question? what are you supposed to do when you are having a panic attack?
    something/anything that will bring you into the physical present, right?
    read a sign.. breath..
    this is how to live without expectation aswell. as yoda says.. just do.
    but, it might also be that it is a completely different way of thinking. looking from a completely different angle at the world.
    and, for me at least, it is a matter of being very still and very quiet internally.. getting out of the way so to speak.

  10. actually i do. i just think it is not our habit. and no-one is ever talking about it, until we are older and have lots of other habits.

  11. I just believe that there is a better way than not having an expectations
    because losing expectations is really annoying and means losing hopes and dreams as well, imagine that there is someone that u love but u don’t want to have a good expectation about what it is going to be because it may be a false hope, believe it or not, u will act correspondingly as if u don’t care much, or imagine that there is a goal that u want to attain and also u don’t want to have a good expectation or build an image of u achieving it, now u miss starting with the goal in mind and u r sending negative signals to you subconscious

    on the other hand, i am talking about having dreams and REALISTIC expectations and working hard to make them real, especially for expectations related to you and what u r capable of, live with hopes and passion, and on the same time be prepared to accept the results whatever they r, if they r bad, look at the bright side, u can fullfill others and don’t forget that learning doesn’t come by for free, without that fall u would never have become more experienced and more strengthened, and if u succeed, congratulations, u are happy and still ALIVE

  12. Thank you very much for this article. Today i cried so much for answers.. Why do i keep getting hurt? Why do people dissapoint me. Why are my reactions so stupid? Is because i expect people to be the way i want them to be. And sadly that is not how life runs. After reading this i finally understand my problem and how to solve it.

  13. Thank you so much for this article.

    Earlier today, I had a fight with my wife and we were on no talking terms.

    After reading your post, I realized that I have very high expectations from my wife and each time she doesnt live up to those I usually have an argument followed by a fight.

    Soon after realizing that, I called her apologizing.

    I completely agree with your conclusion. “….most of the time we ourselves are at least 50% to blame…”

    And in my case, having expectation is the culprit.

  14. Had an interesting one to deal with today (which led me to this site).

    As a reward for going above and beyond, my company is sending myself and 9 colleagues and our partners on an incentive trip to Zanzibar for a week – fantastic!

    The dates were announced today, and it falls within one of the two weeks a month that my accountant husband cannot be away. His company are not negotiable. Easy come – easy go, I guess.

    It’s not a big issue in the greater scheme of things (I know that here are millions of people who would be happy to even have a job), but I am terribly disappointed…

  15. I spent most of my life so far being anxious and unhappy,because of high expectations.I fell into a loop of failures at university and personal life.One time I had a conversation with a meditation teacher, and he asked me when I was going to be happy.i started answering-when I finish university, when I find a great job, a husband…And then I paused,just by myself, out of the blue and I uttered-actually the only time I can be happy is-now.He just smiled, didn’t say anything.It was my AHA moment.This is truly the hardest thing to do and easily forgotten,but my creed ever since.I was afraid of life’s great tragedies,if and when will they come,that I forgot to live in the present.Yesterday is history,tomorrow is a mistery-so live NOW.

  16. I feel that expectations are basically the reason we go on with our everyday lives. We have hopes and dreams that we expect to someday be accomplished. Whether these things happen or not, I think that the healthiest thing is to not give up the expectations, but to learn how to grow from our disappointments. Disappointments are, unfortunately, a part of life, but if dealt with correctly, will only cause growth. “Learn from your mistakes” isn’t a saying for no reason. I think that the true reason that people let disappointments get to them is that they just can’t step back and look at them as learning experiences. Once you have the ability to separate yourself from the situation and look at it from a bigger point of view, good can be seen from any disappointment. For instance, I recently had a big fight with my wife, but instead of being disappointed that she was so unhappy with me, I used the disappointment as a learning experience and spent a lot of time thinking what I could have done differently, and slowly, but surely, she started to notice my changes. Every disappointment, when viewed from another perspective, will bring growth.

  17. Interesting topic.

    I often wonder how i should deal with life and its disappointments. I feel the same as high mountain, no expectations= no disappointment. But because of that i have lost motivation to do anything at all! Why would I, What is the point?

    but thinking this way gets me depressed and even more disappointed. Unfortunately i seem stuck and am unable to enjoy anything (because it is all pointless)….

  18. if you have expectations of other people, it probably means they have expectations of you too. Not being able to fulfill those expectations can be disappointing for you. I guess it s best never to try and live up to someone elses expectations,they re probably not realistic too….

  19. I totally agree about the expectations. I’m currently suffereing from depression brought on by the disappointments I’ve had over the last 8 months. I was getting engaged which should of been a happy time and was, well that was until my Fiance’s cousin tried my engagement ring on before I even had right infront of me. Something in my brain changed and it felt like a light had been flicked a different way and I felt a wave of grief come over me. Since then I’ve not been the same. The proposal happened in our kitchen where I hate and I hated it. I just got so disappointed that my it hadn’t met my expectations and I haven’t been able to recover or feel the same since. There are other things that have happened that have added to some disappointments but I can’t seem to be able to deal them and take everything to heart and then get so upset by it. How do I deal with something like that? I’m on the waiting list for counselling because I havent’ felt the same since she tried my ring on. It’s awful going through that and I want a way to try and deal with the past and move on.

  20. I am honestly trying my best to live in the moment. I have spent ten years of my life in a state of upset because life has not presented itself according to my “design.” I have vowed to myself that I will find a way to live my life without expectation and allow myself to go with the flow of the Universe.

    I do believe we create our own madness and our own harmony.

  21. This was very helpfull… im going through a rough time and im bieng greatly disapointed by a loved one, but it is my extremely large expectations which are unrealisted that are causing my sadness… i just wish for once in my life that my expectations could come true instead of me having to lower them.

  22. hy hello !
    im a past out from college and just entered the work sphere and lately going thru a lot from work sphere,frens n so on n may be from myself …. i have lately started expecting alot from my work i guess but at the same time when i work hard at a particular assignment at work and i only get criticised by my mentors and so on and constantly i have to deal with criticism amd makes me doubt my own capabilities if i come to think of it that did i really expect so much from my work than i realise that may be but than when i luk at the biased nature of my mentor than i realise that b it is an usual story … i dont know what to o slowly and gradully im losing my mind frame from work and things that i once wished to get now when i have them i dont even feel like working at it …My people tell me that im kiddish and so on but i dont expect them to understand me cos this turmoil in my head is not jut letting me think or letting me hope for a btter tomorrow .. i see no hope … i am not able to deal with this office politics as you might call it ..

  23. this is very true. I am going through so many changes all at once during my junior year at college. I went from going to a small school far away where i was extremely comfortable and involved, had good friends, and a semi serious relationship. Then the end of my sophomore year my appartment, classes, and relationship all fell through. I also was unsure about my major and didnt really like anything else offered. My girlfriend met someone else and i felt like everything was falling appart. So i transfered to a bigger college a little bit closer to home as well. I found a major i love, which is the main important thing i guess but I am still rather depressed. I find my self thinking about my old friends and past accomplishments and how I spent my whole junior year depressed. But i guess you cant rush these things, hopefully one day it will lead me to something great.

  24. How do you move on when a family member is just not there for you when you always expected them to be and you were always there for them in the past, whenever they needed you? When it also affects your children, whereas they too are so disappointed in this family member, how do you get past this?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Prove that you're human *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Quest All Access.jpg