We all do it. We make expectations for how we want certain things to turn out, on a small and large scale. Well, I’m no different. I had high expectations for my adventures abroad in Southeast Asia from the day I got accepted to Thammasat University. Here’s why I think it ultimately hindered my experience – and why we should all let go of expectations and appreciate the journey for everything that it is.
So, as some of you may already know, I’ve been participating in a month of gratitude on Instagram that I’ve decided to call #MemorableMay. Basically, I’ve posted a picture each day of something that I am grateful for about my life abroad in order to fully appreciate the beauty of Southeast Asia.
I didn’t start this project to brag about what a beautiful place I’m currently living in. I actually started it because I was sad.
And I know some of you are probably thinking, “What the heck do you have to be sad about while living in Thailand?!” Truth be told, I’d be thinking the same thing if I was in your shoes.
In all honesty, I started to get really homesick this past month. I was missing my family, my friends and the lifestyle I had in California. Recently, I had been comparing my expectations of what I thought this semester would be like to the reality of the experience. Prior to this journey, I expected that I would become almost fluent in Thai. I expected I would join a bunch of clubs on campus. I expected that I would advance my yoga and meditation journeys to a very high level. And I expected that I would be living in a vegetarian’s heaven for food.
Well, none of these expectations were met due to different circumstances and I had gotten really sad about it as I saw my semester coming to an end. I felt like I let myself down for not meeting my expectations and therefore this semester was practically a waste of personal growth.
It’s typical for our human minds to drift towards the negative things in our life and I was allowing mine to go far down the rabbit hole. Thankfully, I caught myself and started thinking about the ways that I’ve grown, the things that I’ve learned, and the places that I’ve seen that I didn’t expect.
One of my goals that I set before coming here was to talk to a monk and learn about their outlook on life. Key word: “a” monk, meaning I thought I would only get the chance to talk to one. Many of my friends back home questioned whether I would be able to do this due to the language barrier, but I had faith that I would meet a monk that knew how to speak English. This expectation has been blown away from anything that I could have imagined.
Not only have I gotten the opportunity to talk to a monk, but I have had multiple encounters with these highly-respected figures in the Thai culture. In early February, I randomly started talking to a monk in a temple in Chiang Mai. After chatting with him for about 30 minutes and watching him perform two blessing ceremonies with Thai people, he offered to show me around the Old City in Chiang Mai. We walked to multiple temples and a history museum so I was able to learn about his hometown, which was truly amazing. His English wasn’t fluent, but I still got to learn so much from him during our three hour adventure before my bus ride back to Bangkok.
The last week of April, my friend Elin told me about a meditation club on campus. She hadn’t gone to a group meditation session yet, but wanted to and asked me to join. We were both really excited about it and met with one of the leaders of the group to talk before the meditation session. On our campus we have a Buddha Hall which has a blessing area with a Buddha statue and a building behind it that has a bunch of rooms, which we soon learned were mainly for meditation.
We went on a Thursday afternoon at 5:30 pm for the group meditation. Everyone was super welcoming so it made us even more excited to be joining them. It began with a chanting meditation, which was in Pali so I had no idea what was being said. Although I couldn’t understand the words, I could feel the energy within the room which left me with overwhelming happiness for my surroundings. After a 35-minute chanting meditation, we began a 30 minute seated, silent meditation. When one of the guys started using the sound healing bowl to bring us out of our meditation, I opened my eyes and it was dark outside. It was a really neat experience to close your eyes during the daylight hours and then open them again to see darkness outside.
After we finished with our group meditation, two of my Thai friends who were in the room next to us came in to see why we were here. Their group meditation had a monk visiting that night and he was excited to see foreigners interested in meditation so they invited us over to speak with him.
His English was really good so we spent over two hours talking about Buddhism and he answered any questions that we had. It was amazing to finally get my questions answered and learn so much about the main religion in Thailand. At the end of our conversation, he mentioned that he would be back on campus in two weeks and would love to speak to us again.
Two weeks later, Elin and I went back for the group meditation and then went to talk to our new monk friend, Luang P’Arm. This time our conversation started out somewhat casual as we talked about what we had all been up to since we last spoke. Somehow our conversation then lead to him talking about Generation Y, aka the Millennials, aka my generation.
We were talking about the impact that technology has made on my generation and why we cannot find happiness. He showed us an article with pictures and graphs as he summarized what it was about.
Basically, it said that “Happiness = Reality – Expectations” and Gen Y is said to be unhappy because we set too many unrealistic expectations.
As he was speaking, this clicked in my mind as to why I felt unhappy lately. I knew my unhappiness was linked to my expectations, but I wouldn’t take my own advice and work on getting my mind away from it. I knew there was a reason that this topic came up during our conversation with the monk. The Universe was sending me a message from a highly respected figure within the Thai culture so that I would actually listen and stop comparing my reality to my expectations.
Our conversation led to many other life lessons, but this was by far the one that stuck with me the most. My recent unhappiness was because I was spending too much time on social media, comparing my happiness to others’, and comparing my expectations to reality. I wasn’t accepting the circumstances of my situation for what it was and appreciating it for everything that it is. Instead I was always thinking “what if.”
Strangely enough, I did try to lower my expectations the week before I had met with him again and that was probably the happiest I’d been, consistently, for awhile. I didn’t have classes May 3-10 due to Thai holidays and my Visa was about to expire soon so I headed north for Laos. Prior to this trip, I told myself that I didn’t want to look at a bunch of pictures of the places that I’ll go. I knew that would place expectations in my mind of how the places should look and – as a result – I would’t be as surprised by their beauty as I should be. I did very minimal research about the places that I wanted to go and it paid off. I was absolutely blown away by the beauty of Laos every single day. I probably got somewhat annoying to the people I was traveling with because I couldn’t stop saying, “I’m in love with this country.”
By doing minimal research, I had no expectations for how Laos was going to look so seeing the scenery in each place I went just blew my mind and made me appreciate it so much more. To me, this was a great lesson in itself. So when I got back and the monk started talking about expectations jeopardizing our happiness, I knew he was right.
I had set such high expectations for my semester abroad that I didn’t appreciate the things that didn’t measure up to my expectations. Reality is, this semester has been absolutely amazing and has exceeded my expectations in many ways that I didn’t realize until I took a step back to reflect on the things that I’ve done.
I have traveled to four countries, seen some of the most beautiful sights that would be labeled “picture perfect,” learned so much about the Thai culture, witnessed some of the most authentic cultural experiences, and learned so much about myself that I would not have learned if things went the way that I expected them to go.
Yes, it would have been spectacular if the semester played out the way that I wanted it to, but that isn’t how life works. Life is continually throwing curveballs at us because we need to learn more about ourselves and/or the world; which wouldn’t happen if everything always went according to plan.
As this semester comes to a close, the biggest life lesson that I have learned is to let go of expectations.
When you have no expectations, you are never let down by how things turn out. Instead, it always exceeds your expectations because you had none. Sounds simple, right? We’re all human, so yes we will set expectations unintentionally, but simply practice awareness when you set those expectations. I’m not saying that you should never have expectations for things because that is unrealistic, but be open minded to the way things work out. You will obtain so much more happiness when you have nothing to compare your experiences to and just enjoy everything for the way that it is.
I am grateful for everything that this study abroad journey has become during my time here. Without the challenges, I would have never learned so much about myself. One of the biggest pieces of advice I can share with you is to appreciate every aspect of each journey you take. Stop to smell the roses, vent when you need to get things off your chest and ask yourself why the Universe has created this path for you.
A favorite quote from Alice Morse Earle always helps me to see the bright side in life: “Every day may not be good, but there’s something good in every day” I hope that each and every one of you reading this can see the blessings in your life, even during the tough times. Always remember that it is an amazing opportunity to have a human experience and wander around this beautiful planet.
Tiffany Geer is earning a bachelor’s degree in communication at San Diego State University. She is blogging from Thailand for the 2016 spring semester.