Obviously many people have already said something along the lines that attachment can lead to unhappiness (for instance, an interpretation of the second of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism suggests that attachment to external reality, either by seeking pleasure or avoiding negative outcomes can lead to suffering). While talking to some colleagues (and, at the same time, friends) of mine a couple days ago, I found myself asking:
“As a native English speaker, how would you explain the difference between anticipation and expectation?”
And to be precise, both terms are also used in specific contexts where they are not interchangeable, such as that using the term “anticipation” in a context that implies being accompanied by a sensation of excitement can somewhat less likely be replaced by “expectation”. So, I was mostly referring to instances where the terms can indeed be used interchangeably.
The answers were diverse, but one common theme seemed to surface: expectation usually refers to a situation where the person having the expectation (or doing the expecting) is fairly certain of some specific outcome, such as that I am expecting my next paycheck to be deposited in my account in time (so far it always did, at least). On the other hand, anticipation is a somewhat softer term invoking the same concept: for instance, someone might very well pack sun screen, anticipating the need to use it (it might very well be a sunny day, although it is far from certain).
Additionally, in cases of positive outcomes, another difference seemed to come from the fact that if I indeed expect an outcome to occur (that is, before it occurred I was fairly certain that it would), there is little to no reason to be “surprised” (which in parts of the learning literature is sometimes called “prediction error”, in case of the check I find it simply normal to be deposited in time), but if the outcome was only anticipated (in other words, there was still a good chance for it not to occur), the person is pleasantly surprised (rewarding feeling, happiness, like I am still glad the sun actually came out) that something “good happened”. And, maybe even worse, for every expectation (borderline-certainty) of a positive outcome that does not occur (my deposit didn’t make it in time, for whatsoever reason) a person might then actually experience a negative prediction error (why did it not happen?), followed by being upset or angry…
What I am now wondering about, at the core, is: am I able to “rephrase” (or re-appraise) my expectations in a way that I see them rather as “anticipations”, which would allow me to remain “positively surprised” when the outcome occurs and prevent a flush of anger in cases where anticipated (rather than expected) outcomes do not materialize?
Other than in Buddhism that (as far as I understand it at least) teaches that the source of suffering (unhappiness = anger = negative prediction error?) is wanting, I am thinking maybe it is more that whatever the mismatch between wanting (expectation) and reality (outcome) is leads to a prediction error, which subsequently triggers negative emotion?
This would then suggest that not the wanting is the source of suffering but the expectation of the outcome is (and naturally, if and only if the expectation is not met; otherwise, I will neither be happy or unhappy, as there was no prediction error)…
And as a side note: as far as the use of prediction error in learning is concerned, it seems that people are in general more inclined to “learn” from positive prediction errors (reality is better than expected) than negative ones, an effect described in the literature as “optimism bias”.