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Dealing with Disappointment

How do we deal with disappointment?

by Helen Bryant (revised, originally published in 2013)

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To consider how to deal with disappointment when it happens.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need an exciting-looking present that contains something boring or nothing at all. You could use a nicely decorated box or a recognizable box, such as for a mobile phone. The aim is for the person opening it to be genuinely disappointed that the promise of the outside is not matched by its contents.

    Note: be careful to ensure that the recipient won’t be overly upset. You might want to prepare a willing volunteer or staff member to be the recipient.

  • Optional: you may wish to prepare an image of the equation of disappointment for the ‘Assembly’, Step 3:

    disappointment = expectations – reality


  1. Give the exciting-looking present to your volunteer or staff member and ask them to open it.

    What we have seen here is disappointment in action: the building up of hopes and expectations that are then dashed.

    When we’re really disappointed, it can feel like the rug has been pulled out from under us. I doubt that there is a person in this room who hasn’t been disappointed at one time or another.

  2. As a child, maybe you expected to get something for Christmas or your birthday, but it didn’t materialize. You might not know why you didn’t get it. It might have been because your parents couldn’t afford it, or they misjudged what you wanted.

    If possible, share a personal experience of this feeling.

  3. Disappointment focuses totally on the outcome of a situation. It might be helpful to think of disappointment using this equation.

    Show the image of the equation of disappointment, if available.

    ‘Disappointment equals expectations minus reality.’ This means that what we expected to happen and what actually happened simply didn’t match up, equalling disappointment.

    Maybe we thought that our favourite group would always be together. Maybe we recently worked hard for a test and didn’t pass, despite all our hard work, making us feel really disappointed, like we had somehow ‘failed’. Maybe we were let down by someone we trusted.

  4. We have all faced disappointing circumstances, situations and events. Disappointment is one of life’s most uncomfortable feelings. Psychologists have suggested that, for some people, it is quite close to the grief that someone might feel after losing a loved one.

  5. How we deal with disappointment depends on how it affects us. It is important, though, to let our feelings out. Bottling them up and turning inwards doesn’t do anyone any good. If we need to have a little cry, we should go right ahead. Allowing ourselves to be sad is a perfectly natural response. We must try not to lash out because we are frustrated, though – we may well regret it later.

    It’s also worth trying to put things in perspective. Of course, this is hard to do when we feel disappointed or like we have failed in some way. Think, though: is it really a complete disaster?

    Sadly, there are a fair few disasters in the truest sense of the word.

    If possible, use a recent example of a disaster such as a plane crash.

    How does our disaster compare? It’s possible that it doesn’t compare at all, which means that we can put ours into some sort of perspective. Yes, for us, it’s disappointing and upsetting, but will it matter a year, a month or even a week from now?

Time for reflection

In the meantime, let’s give ourselves a break and make sure that we focus on what we have to be grateful for. It might be our families, pets or friends. We might find that we have more to feel grateful for than we have to be disappointed about.

So, when our expectations don’t match reality, let’s try not to dwell too much on our disappointment. We should recognize that disappointment happens to everyone, but take the opportunity to learn from what has happened and put things into perspective. Then, we might find that we are not as disappointed as we thought we were. There are always other ways to go.


‘Hey Jude’ by the Beatles

Publication date: November 2020   (Vol.22 No.11)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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