“MADAM,--I hope you will believe that my delay in answering your letter could proceed only from my unwillingness to destroy any hope that you had formed. Hope is itself a species of happiness, and, perhaps, the chief happiness which this world affords: but, like all other pleasures immoderately enjoyed, the excesses of hope must be expiated by pain; and expectations improperly indulged, must end in disappointment. If it be asked, what is the improper expectation which it is dangerous to indulge, experience will quickly answer, that it is such expectation as is dictated not by reason, but by desire; expectation raised, not by the common occurrences of life, but by the wants of the expectant; an expectation that requires the common course of things to be changed, and the general rules of action to be broken.”
Boswell's Life of Johnson by James Boswell
Years ago, I had some surgery, and afterward was rewarded with a prescription for Vicodin. I recall sitting in my bathrobe on the living room sofa and reading the lengthy package insert with all the warnings about harmful side effects. When I got to the one that said “false sense of wellbeing” I giggled with delight to think that this would be considered a harmful side effect of the narcotic. Then I got depressed to think that the wonderful floaty feeling in the absence of pain was not real, it was “false”. Thanks a lot, Major Buzzkill.
But that wasn’t as bad as the above letter that Johnson sent to some woman who had asked him to find a job for her woefully untalented son. What a crushing way to demolish somebody’s expectations. Particularly, expectations raised by desire and/or the wants of the expectant. Whether it’s drugs or unreasonable hopes that lead us to think the world is okay, Johnson is trying to explain that pain is the price we pay for hoping too much.
But Johnson obviously didn’t garden, or enjoy the expectation as Spring begins to peek around corners and things in the yard begin to awaken. Now that we’re about to turn the calendar page to March, Nature confidently assures us that it is ok to start expecting Spring.