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Disappointment is the feeling of dissatisfaction that follows the failure of expectations or hopes to manifest. Similar to regret, it differs in that a person feeling regret focuses primarily on the personal choices that contributed to a poor outcome, while a person feeling disappointment focuses on the outcome itself. – from Wikipedia

It may be easy to describe disappointment with words like regret or a failure to meet expectations, but what it can feel like is anger, frustration, or even depression. Sooner or later, we will all experience disappointment, and it was something, particularly during my first couple of years of parenting, I would have avoided at any cost; the disappointment of my son.

These days, I see it as a chance for growth and maturity for him to learn about what disappointment is, how to manage it and carry on. Frankly, I am still learning these important tools myself and am a little disappointed it has taken me this long to see it as an opportunity rather than a disaster. Here are 5 things I have learned.

  1. Disappointment is all in the mind. I know it sounds obvious, but it is true. We often build a story line into reality before it has transpired. For example, I will get the promotion by the end of the year. We may not see the 5,000 other candidates lined up at the door, or understand that the boss’s sister’s husband has already promised the job, or realize that the budget has been cut and the promotion is off the table. Whatever the story is, the only thing we feel when we don’t meet our own expectations, is disappointment in the flavor of anger, frustration or sadness. The Buddha once said that the two biggest causes of suffering in life are hope and fear. I hope I can remember that one.

  2. Disappointment needs a reality check. It’s not that we should not have hopes or desires, but it can be a good idea to share these expectations with friends and loved ones. The more you can communicate your needs and dreams, the more those around you who care about you will know how to help meet you where you are. This also gives those special people known as ‘sounding boards’ a chance to let you know you that you are either completely bonkers, or that your desires are something worth shooting for.

  3. Disappointment is the opposite of having an appointment with life. Generally speaking, disappointment is a result of living in the past or the future rather than the now. When we plan for a future without accounting for chaos or life’s uncertainties, disappointment is likely to set in and overtake our ability to be content with what we have, with things as they are. We never really know what is going to happen in life, only that they usually do not go according to plan. Stewing about things for too long when they go unsatisfactorily is a waste of precious time.

  4. Disappointment is not always completely our fault. Sometimes things happen when others let us down; a promise may have been unfulfilled, or we may feel unseen or unacknowledged. In these cases, it can be a slippery slope between finding an outlet for our disappointment, and falling into the role of a victim. Differentiating between the two and making a clear choice in how one wishes to proceed is important. Becoming a victim usually is not a positive experience,  nor leads to anything but more disappointment. On the other hand, finding something to divert the frustrated or sorrowful energy can result in something new and wonderful emerging. Usually when one door closes, another one opens if given enough time.

  5. Disappointment can disappear. When it comes to my son, when I sense he is disappointed about something, like not getting a toy that he wanted, we look for solutions. For example, we invent our own toy, make up a game, or find an old toy that has been long forgotten, and re-invent it. This can work with adults too. Say the promotion didn’t work out. The energy from the frustration can be used to polish off the old CV and to start looking for a new job, or used to enter into discussions about a new role on the job. When channeled, disappointment can lead inventive solutions that may have otherwise gone over looked.

Lastly, what I have learned about disappointment is that we all have our own way of dealing with it. Some may want to talk about it to help process it, others may need to swing a tennis bat around. The more we can learn to listen- to our own needs and to those closest to us- and the more we can choose our words mindfully when communicating, the more we can give up hope without living in fear. Freedom is living without hope or fear, and being free is not disappointing.

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