Disappointment Haunted All My Dreams defines Disappointment as,

: the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations

Disappointment is a primary emotion paired as the opposite emotion to Optimism. Optimism is our expectation of the best possible outcome from events, while Disappointment is the feeling when we do not receive the expected rewards of an anticipated future.

As a primary emotion, Disappointment is the combination of Surprise and Sadness basic emotions. The emotion of Sadness associated with Disappointment is a way for us to correct our assumptions of other events in future. By remembering our mistaken assumptions we are less likely to be surprised in the future.

Research suggests that the quickness of our recovery from Disappointment may have both a genetic and environmental (learned) basis, just like the set point for Optimism. Some people may recover quicker from Disappointment, while others may become disheartened or frustrated because they are unable to incorporate the changing information they have received.

Disappointment and Regret are related but different feelings. Disappointment has to do with the anticipation of a positive outcome and the eventual failure, resulting in sadness. Regret has to do with our poor choices in actions and behavior that led to the outcome, and wishing that we could do things differently again.

We use Disappointment and Hurt when we refer to other people and their behavior. We feel disappointed (surprised and sad) when someone does not behave as we expect, e.g, a parent to their child, “I am disappointed in your behavior”. But we feel hurt when we believe the other person’s behavior is unfair or unjust to us, i.e., when they have done us harm.

The artist for Caricatures demonstrates Disappointment through a sketch of a person with a torn kite. Perhaps this person was looking forward to seeing their kite soar in the sky. But now it is torn and cannot fly, and the person is downcast and sad that the expected future of fun did not materialize.

The emotion Disappointment in the Caricature series of sketches

The emotion Disappointment in the Caricature series of sketches

The artist for Watercolors uses sports to illustrate Disappointment. While playing soccer, the forward has only to beat the opposing goalkeeper, but the shot is wide. Each of us can identify with the feeling of Disappointment, while watching the ball go wide of the goal. The anticipated future of the ball in the net, the score and celebration, the adulation of the crowd – all of these will not take place now.

The emotion Disappointment in the Watercolor series of sketches

The emotion Disappointment in the Watercolor series of sketches

It Took Me by Surprise

Merriam-Webster defines Surprise as,

: an unexpected event, piece of information, etc.

: an unexpected gift, party, etc.

: the feeling caused by something that is unexpected or unusual

Surprise, the emotion defined by its brevity, arises when something predicted does not happen as expected, or when something unexpected occurs. Surprise is neutral, just a recognition of the unexpected. But as we process the unexpected and understand the implications, the emotion of Surprise rapidly gives way to other emotions – Happiness if the event was gladly received, Fear if there is danger accompanying the event, or Anger if the event is upsetting.

Surprise brings us new information, as our mental model of the world is challenged and reality differs from the expected turn of events, or when completely unexpected events occur. Being forced to reassess our expectations leads to new learning as we are faced with our ignorance. We pay attention with our mind empty of other thoughts. Then, as we process the implications, other strong emotions – like [Happiness]((, Fear and Anger – flood our mind with feeling. This is why we remember a Surprise years after the event, and why advertisers use Surprise to aid advertising recall.

A Dramatic Surprise on a Quiet Square

Surprise is accompanied by distinctive facial expressions. When we are surprised, we open our eyes wide enough to show the whites, raise our eyebrows so high that they are curved, and open our mouth with our jaw dropped, lips and teeth parted. These distinctive expressions help us take in the maximum information and alert others that we are experiencing something unexpected.

Surprise is different from startle. Startle is a brief, reflex action that we feel even if we expect the event, e.g., the starting gun in a race, whereas a Surprise, by definition, is an unexpected event. Finally, when we are surprised, our eyes are open, but when we are startled, our eyes are tightly closed.

In the Caricature series of sketches, the artist shows someone turning the handle on a Jack-in-the-Box. We don’t know when and what will pop out of the box, and are surprised when it happens. The unpredictability and randomness of the top opening can be endlessly amusing for a child.


The emotion Surprise in the Caricature series of sketches.

The artist for Watercolors prepared a sketch showing a human hand opening the ribbon tied on a gift box. When we open the ribbon and take off the lid, we don’t know what to expect inside the box. When we see what is inside the gift box we first feel Surprise, and then, as we interpret the meaning of the object, another emotion like Happiness, Fear, Anger or Disgust, etc.


The emotion Surprise in the Watercolor series of sketches.

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