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How do we deal with disappointment?

by Helen Bryant

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To look at disappointment and how to deal with it when it happens. 

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a present, nicely wrapped. You could choose a lovely box, a huge box, a number of boxes to put one inside the other, a recognizable box, such as for a mobile phone, but put either something really boring inside or nothing. The aim is for the person opening it to be genuinely disappointed that the promise of the outside is not matched by the contents, but be careful to ensure that the recipient won’t be overly upset.
  • You might want to prepare a willing volunteer or a member of staff to give the present to in the assembly.
  • You could prepare an image of the equation of disappointment:

    disappointment = expectations – reality

    and have the means to display it or write it out, but this is optional.
  • Have available the song 'Hey Jude' by The Beatles and the means to play it at the end of the assembly.


1. Give the present to your volunteer, member of staff or someone else and have them open it.

2. What you've seen here is disappointment in action – the building up of hopes and expectations that are then dashed.

To be disappointed can sometimes mean that you literally feel as if someone has pulled the rug out from under you. I doubt that there is a person in this room who hasn't been disappointed at some time or another in a variety of ways.

3. Maybe as a child you expected to get something for Christmas or your birthday, but you didn't get it. You might not know why you didn’t. It could simply have been because your parents couldn't afford it or they misjudged what you wanted.

I know someone who, when he was a little boy, loved nothing but looking at maps and playing with Brio and Lego. For his birthday, though, his parents got him a cowboy costume. This little boy put on the costume and said thank you for it, but what he really wanted was a train set.

4. Disappointment focuses totally on the outcome of a situation. I found an interesting picture that looked at disappointment as an equation.

Show the image, if using, or write it out or just say it:

disappointment = expectations – reality

That is, what you expected to happen and the reality of what actually happened simply didn't match up, equalling disappointment. Maybe you thought that One Direction would always be together. Maybe you've recently worked hard for a test or exam and you didn’t pass despite all your hard work and you're really disappointed, feeling that you have somehow ‘failed’. Maybe you ‘only’ got 9 A* and not 10 or maybe you were let down by someone you trusted.

5. So, we have all faced disappointing circumstances, situations and events. Disappointment is one of life's most uncomfortable feelings. Some psychologists have suggested that, for some people, it is quite close to the grief someone might feel after losing a loved one.

6. How we deal with disappointment depends on how it affects us. It is important, though, to let your feelings out – don't bottle them up and turn inwards as that doesn't do anyone any good, especially you. If you need to have a little cry, do so. Allow yourself to be sad – it is a perfectly natural response. Try not to lash out because you are frustrated, though – you may well regret it later. 

It might also be worth putting things into perspective. This is hard to do when you are in the throes of being disappointed or feeling that you have failed in some way. Think, though, is it really a complete disaster?

A plane crash or being diagnosed with leukaemia (make sure you use examples that are not happening for students or teachers in the room) are disasters in the truest sense of the word. How does your disaster compare? It is possible that it really doesn't and so you can put yours into some sort of perspective. Yes, for you it's disappointing and upsetting, but will it matter a year from now, a month from now or even a week from now? 

Time for reflection

In the meantime, give yourself a break and make sure you focus on what you have to be grateful for – what you have in your life that can bring you joy. It might be your pets, your siblings or your friends. You might find that you have more to feel grateful for than you have to be disappointed about.

So, when your expectations don't match the reality, try not to dwell too much on your disappointment. Know that disappointment happens to everyone, but take the opportunity to learn from what has happened and put things into perspective. Then you might find that you are not as disappointed as you thought you were. There are always other avenues and other ways to go.


'Hey Jude' by The Beatles

Publication date: July 2015   (Vol.17 No.7)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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