By having realistic expectations we will live a happier life. This week's Torah portion tells us about the different types of offerings (gifts) that people brought to God as a way to become closer to Him. These gifts were different according to the giver's wealth. Someone rich was expected give more than someone who had an average amount of wealth, who was in turn expected to give more than someone poor. Yet all of these offerings were equally valued by God. We, too, should set realistic expectations in our lives and avoid unnecessary disappointment.
In our story, some kids discover how much better it feels to have realistic expectations.
Jerry gazed through the huge, glass windows at the big jets taking off and landing like birds. Then he turned to watch the fascinating parade of differently dressed people from all over the world wheeling their luggage through the lobby.
It was certainly exciting to be at the airport waiting for his mom to arrive back from her business trip. But the most exciting part of it all was trying to imagine all the great, super-cool souvenir gifts she was surely going to bring him.
"PASSENGERS FROM FLIGHT 808 NOW ARRIVING THROUGH GATE B," boomed the loudspeaker. Great! Mom's flight; she - and the souvenirs - will be out any minute... Jerry thought.
There she was! "Hi Mom!" Jerry waved as she finally came out the door. She gave him a big hug. "Great to see you Mom, can I have my presents now?" he asked.
"Maybe we'd better get home first before I open the suitcase," his mom said with a tired smile. But there was no way Jerry could wait that long for all the cool stuff he was surely going to get. After begging her the whole way through the parking lot, his mom finally agreed to open the suitcase in the car.
"Mom, let's open it now!" he blurted out as soon as they sat down in the car.
"Okay, Jerry," she said, opening the latch of the suitcase. "Here you go," she smiled, handing him one of the two small, gift-wrapped packages that were in it.
"Thanks," Jerry said, quickly unwrapping the shiny watch. He stuck it on the seat next to him. "Okay, now where's the rest of the stuff?"
"What do you mean?" his mother asked.
"You know - the big stuff; fancy toys, native costumes, souvenir posters, puzzles and games..."
"Jerry, it was a short trip and I was at meetings almost the whole time. I barely had time to pick out these designer watches for you and your sister. I'm afraid that expecting so many elaborate gifts just wasn't realistic."
"You mean that's it?" the boy sulked. Really disappointed and angry, he turned his red face toward the car door and that was how he sat - without saying a word - the whole ride home.
They pulled into their garage and walked into the house - Jerry, still feeling cheated, stomped his feet as he walked.
"Mom! Welcome home!" Jerry's sister, Kay, who had been waiting for them at home, came running over to hug their mom.
She's smiling now, thought Jerry. Wait until she sees that one dumb little present she's going to get. She won't be smiling then!
They sat chatting together at the table and ate some of the snacks Kay had set out, while Jerry sat, pretending not to listen, on the couch.
"Okay, Mom. Great having you home," Kay said. "I'd better go back to my homework now."
"Just a minute, Kay," said their mom. "I got you a gift."
"You did? That's so nice of you." Jerry watched out of the corner of his eye and snickered as his mom reached into the suitcase.
She won't be so happy, as soon as she sees it...
"Wow, what a nice watch!" Kay said. "Thank you so much. I wasn't expecting anything. I figured you were going to be way too busy to shop this time." Jerry watched as the girl gave their mom a big thank-you kiss and practically skipped with happiness to her room. Why was she so happy and he so sad?
Then it dawned on him. His sister was happy because she had gotten more than she expected and he was sad because he'd gotten less - even though they'd gotten the exact same gift! Maybe it wasn't the gift that had made him feel down - but rather it was his sky-high expectations and he'd start to feel higher if he made his expectations a little lower.
Q. How did Jerry feel when his mom first gave him his gift?
A. He had expected much more and was very disappointed.
Q. How did his sister, Kay, feel?
A. She hadn't been expecting anything so she was thrilled with what she got.
Q. What life-lesson do you think Jerry learned that day?
A. He had unrealistically expected a whole suitcase full of gifts from his mom when she came home from her trip and was disappointed when he didn't get them. He had felt he was disappointed because of the gift, but came to realize it was because of his overly high expectations.
Q. Why do you think Kay was so happy to receive her gift?
A. She hadn't expected anything. So whatever she got went beyond her expectations and that made her happy.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. What, if anything, do you think is the relationship between a person's expectations and his or her happiness level?
A. It is a very simple equation. Generally speaking, when we get more than we expect we are happy; when we get less than we expect we are not. By lowering our expectations, we can increase our level of happiness.
Q. Should we also expect less from ourselves? If we do, won't we limit our potential?
A. It is important to strike a balance. We should strive to expect enough from ourselves to motivate us to put in a maximum effort to succeed, but not so much that we will feel anxious or overly down if we don't succeed.