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Great expectations

Even though you’ve had to deal with it since childhood, coping with disappointment doesn’t get any easier. And although you’ve been taught to accept disappointment as a part of life, experiencing repeated letdowns can actually do more than simply burst your bubble. An inability to cope with disappointment can jeopardize health, causing stress symptoms that may aggravate arthritis, back pain or headaches. When it comes to disappointment, the baby boomer generation is especially vulnerable. Born during a time of great optimism and economic growth, boomers enjoyed better clothing, care and material goods than any generation before them. The downside of all this prosperity is that many boomers grew up with very high expectations about what life should be like. As a result, many are having difficulty dealing with the effects and limitations of aging or the competition they face in the work force due to their large numbers.

But no matter what generation you fit into, if you seem to be experiencing feelings of disappointment more acutely than ever, there are ways to shield yourself from life’s downers. Here’s how:

Be realistic. Realism is an obvious but effective tool in preventing disappointment. You’re less likely to be disappointed if you pursue goals in line with your abilities, rather than thinking the sky is the limit. This might also be a good time to redefine success. Do you need a beachfront, five-bedroom home to be happy? Are designer shoes really the only ones that will do? Must you rise to CEO status to enjoy career satisfaction?

Live in the present. Being future-focused puts you at increased risk for disappointment. By fantasizing about an upcoming trip for weeks, you put a tremendous amount of pressure on yourself to make those fantasies come true. If the trip doesn’t live up to those expectations, you’ve set yourself up for disappointment. A better strategy is to let the good times happen naturally and spontaneously.

Be flexible. It’s great to dream big but equally important to realize that making every wish come true is not always possible. Disappointment occurs when you can’t accept that a particular wish will not be fulfilled or if you make one wish your “everything.” The act of relinquishing a wish that can’t be fulfilled and pursuing another can lift you out of the doldrums.

Look for the source. Do you find your disappointment is specific to a particular activity, person or situation? Repeated disappointment in one area may reflect a faulty thinking pattern on your part. If the situation is one that is shared with or witnessed by others, ask them what their reactions are. This may help give you a reasonable new perspective on people and situations.

Learn to bounce back. Instead of letting little disappointments eat at you, try to go with the flow more often. For instance, instead of leaving in a huff when the movie you had your heart set on seeing is sold out, buy a ticket for another film and enjoy the unexpected.

Consider the odds. Qualifying your expectations can help prevent disappointment. Instead of wishing, “I want a promotion,” try thinking, “The chances are good that I will be promoted.” By considering probability in the outcome of any situation, you can keep expectations reasonable.

Hone communication skills. Sometimes disappointment stems from a simple misunderstanding. If you find this happening to you more often than not, don’t be afraid to clarify discussions. Listen closely when people are speaking to you, and when they are done, paraphrase what they have said to make sure you are all on the same page. Try beginning with something like, “So what you are saying is …” You might even ask them to do the same in return to avoid confusion.

Live and learn. Learning from disappointment can help you prevent it in the future. When things don’t work out the way you hoped, consider whether your expectations were too high or if you need to redirect your energies to activities where you’re more likely to have a positive outcome.

Disappointment can push you to improve skills and tap into your own resources to grow, try harder or discover different areas of strengths. The next time you are disappointed, step back and consider how you can turn a disappointment into a positive step forward. By doing this often, you’ll find you’re much better able to cope the next time life throws you a curve ball.

Seeing yourself not only survive but thrive after a disappointment can be the best cure of all.