Public relations professionals continually hound their clients and employers about managing expectations. That is, we work to ensure that the expectations of a target audience don’t get so unrealistically optimistic that the audience becomes disappointed with the client/employer when an outcome inevitably doesn’t match unrealistic expectations.
For instance, if key stakeholders believe a company is certain to report that earnings have increased by 25 percent, the PR staffer may work overtime to convince the stakeholders that such an expectation is unrealistic, so the stakeholders don’t judge the company a failure if earnings have increased by “only” 10 percent.
The need to manage expectations effectively makes PR people into their organization’s Chief Wet-blanket Officer (CWO). We have to continually tell people, “let’s not state that quite so optimistically…”
Well, a recent CBS 60 Minutes story about Denmark indicates that expectation management is perhaps much more than just a tool for business and politics. Perhaps it is something much more profound — the elusive Key to Happiness.
Excerpts from the story:
Happiness is that quirky, elusive emotion that the Declaration of Independence maintains we have every right to pursue. And we do pursue it: we are suckers for an endless stream of self-help books that promise a carefree existence for a mere $24.95; and television hucksters of every kind claim they have the key to Nirvana. So the happiness business, at least, is one big smiley face.
As for the rest of us, the main scientific survey of international happiness carried out by Leicester University in England ranks the U.S. a distant 23rd, well behind Canada and Costa Rica. But you’ll be pleased to know we beat Iraq and Pakistan.
Over the past 30 years, in survey after survey, this nation (Denmark) of five and a half million people…consistently beat the rest of the world in the happiness stakes. It’s hard to figure: the weather is only so-so, they are heavy drinkers and smokers, their neighbors, the Norwegians, are richer, and their other neighbors, the Swedes, are healthier.
…after careful study, Christensen (Professor Kaare Christensen at the University of Southern Denmark) thinks he isolated the key to Danish anti-depression. “What we basically figured out that although the Danes were very happy with their life, when we looked at their expectations they were pretty modest,” he says.
By having low expectations, one is rarely disappointed.
Christensen’s study was called “Why Danes Are Smug,” and essentially his answer was it’s because they’re so glum and get happy when things turn out not quite as badly as they expected. “And I was thinking about, What if it was opposite? That Denmark made the worst, number 20, and another country was number one. I’m pretty sure the Danish television would have said, ‘Well, number 20’s not too bad. You know it’s still in the top 25, that’s not so bad,'” he says.
History may also play a role in the country’s culture of low expectations. If you go to the government’s own Web site, it proudly proclaims “the present configuration of the country is the result of 400 years of forced relinquishments of land, surrenders and lost battles.”
Could it be that the true secret of happiness is a swift kick in the pants, or a large dose of humiliation?
Just some food for thought. Have a non-catatstrophic day!