How do our expectations and ambitions impact on our happiness?

We all daydream. I often imagine getting into shape, but then I realize it gets in the way of me levelling up in Candy Crush. But we all do it. Daydream. Fantasize. Ufabet. Have great expectations about a future where we move to Paris, learn French and write a book.

Great expectations

Great expectations

But how do our expectations and ambitions impact on our happiness? In order to create a better understanding of how ambition shapes our lives, Timothy Judge, professor of management at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, examined data that tracked the lives of 717 people. The data began in 1922 (the year a radio was first introduced into the White House) when the participants were children, and followed them for up to seventy years, a period during which the world lived through a World War, put a man on the moon, saw the rise and fall of empires – and the invention of the internet.

In the study, the participants were marked as more or less ambitious; this was based on self-assessment during the subject’s youth and their parents’ assessment. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the ambitious ones went on to be more successful in objective terms – going on to the more prestigious universities, such as Harvard and Princeton, working in more respected occupations and earning higher salaries.

In materialistic terms, Marcus Aurelius might have been right in saying that’a man’s worth is no greater than the worth of his ambitions’, but perhaps he overlooked the fact that a man’s worth does not equal his well-being.

For the ambitious among us, once we reach our goal we soon formulate another to pursue. This is the hedonic treadmill. We continuously raise the bar for what we want or feel we need in order to be happy – and the hedonic treadmill spins faster with ambition. In other words, the downside to being ambitious is a constant sense of dissatisfaction with our achievements.

There might be some truth in the notion that happiness is ambition reality. So, could this be the reason why Danes score high on? Is it because they have low expectations? Some have suggested as much.

The study of life satisfaction in the European Union

The study of life satisfaction in the European Union

One December around a decade ago, the British Medical Journal published an article called ‘Why Danes are Smug: Comparative Study of Life Satisfaction in the European Union’. It concluded that the key factor in the high level of life satisfaction among the Danes was consistently low expectations for the year to come.

The December issue was a Christmas edition which also featured explanations for why Rudolph has a red nose (apparently, it is due to a high density of capillaries in his nose); and the article about the happy Danes also looked at the impact of a high share of blondes living in the country, the level of beer consumption (a reviewer suggested that Danes were happy because they are drunk when they participate in the surveys), and concluded that another reason was that beating Germany 2-o in the Euro 92 Championship football final put Denmark in such a state of euphoria that the country has not been the same since.

However, just because the article was built on humour rather than data does not mean that it might not be true.