Opinions, Expectations, and Emotions

Following up on my series of posts about the phenomenon of opinion, I’ve been pondering the relationship between opinions, expectations, and emotions.

It’s well known that emotions are based on a conception of how things are or should be (as a simple example, one person might get excited by a Fourth of July fireworks display whereas another might find it offputting because they don’t like crowds and loud noises). If my conception of things is, say, false or incomplete or misleading or just different from what the people around me believe, then it’s quite possible that I might experience negative emotions.

I first explored these topics in my 2013 book Letters on Happiness: An Epicurean Dialogue. The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus examined various dyads of emotion and misunderstanding; the classic Epicurean example is a misguided fear of death leading to a groundless desire for immortality, since both the fear and the desire are based on fundamental misconceptions about life and death. I then extended his analysis to a number of other emotions, such as desires for status, power, and fame.

Most directly for the topic at hand, I might be of the opinion that other people should behave in line with my expectations, but if they don’t then I’ll likely experience negative emotions such as surprise, disappointment, irritation, frustration, resentment, anger, or offense. Yet as I described in my post Philosophy and Anger, this opinion is ill-founded.

Here we become aware that opinions are not a purely intellectual matter, but instead have real-world consequences for your day-to-day emotional state. Holding fewer opinions and holding opinions less strongly can lead to greater serenity in life, which is priceless.

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