I did it again the other day.
I was a few chapters into a new book when my initial positive feelings about the characters and the story began to wane. Instead of either committing to the story and giving the author the benefit of the doubt or returning the book mostly unread, I searched for the book on Amazon in order to browse the reviews.
It’s a silly habit, really. I’ve already purchased or borrowed the book. At this point, the opinions of others should hold no merit and I should instead focus on my own interest and my view on the merits of the book.
But I often don’t.
And in doing so, I’ve noticed an interesting phenomena.
Sometimes, I gravitate to the one-star reviews and read scathing comments about the error-filled writing, unbelievable characters or pointless story. It comes as no surprise that when I limit myself to the one-star reviews, I heighten my own sensitivity to the downsides of the book, often deciding to skim the remainder or throw in the towel altogther.
Other times, I really want to like the story and so I filter the reviews to only see those that praise the work in an attempt to see the book in a new and rose-colored light. But this often backfires, the compliments ringing hollow and syncophantic, causing me to become more aware of the gulf between those lofty expectations and my reality of the book.
After much trial and error, I’ve finally settled on a strategy that usually leads not only to my finishing the book, but also increases my enjoyment of it: I read only the three-star reviews. Those assessments that acknowledge the book’s strengths while also being realistic about the weaknesses. A balance between anticipation and assumption. An acceptance that nothing is perfect and that it can be appreciated nonetheless.
A recent study explored the idea of high expectations in marriage. It found that high expectations were associated with a happier marriage only when those expectations were realistic. When the marriage was characterized by a lack of relationship skills, lower (and attainable) expectations actually were correlated with an increase in happiness.
It makes sense.
Sometimes we mistakenly believe that happiness is the absence of sorrow. The lack of struggle. That happiness is only found when everything is going great and all five stars are shining.
But like those glowing reviews, that sort of happiness can ring false as it often ignores or suppresses parts of reality.
Happiness is found when faults are acknowledged but not focused upon. When expectations are high and yet attainable. When perfection is not predicted or pretended. When there is a balance between what is enjoyed and what is tolerated. When concerns are contemplated but not ruminated upon. When each good moment is enjoyed for what it is without worry about the moment before or after.
Happiness is found in the three-star reviews.