They say happiness comes from the difference between expectations and reality. Want to have a good vacation? Or get excited about the New York apartments available in your budget? Lower your expectations.

The issue is that expectations tend to rise. An upgrade to business class, or an iPhone with 4G service can make everything you were fine with before seem unacceptable. The solve is easy: actively lower your expectations when you feel them creeping up.

Except – what do you do about dating? You wouldn’t tell a friend to expect to date a loser just to feel happy about someone who meets those expectations. No. Keep expectations high and only date someone who is worthy of your time.

But if expectations of a person are high, and expectations tend to grow over time, how do two people manage to each find a person who continuously manages to beat the others’ expectations? What do you do when a person disappoints you? Or when the relationship (or life in general) isn’t perfect? Do you lower expectations of a person once you’ve found the right one? Or give them a get-out-of-high-expectations-free card?

I look at my Dad and his fiancee. I just had the pleasure of traveling with them to London. They’ve been dating six years, and I still can’t get over how much they adore each other. Multiple times over the course of 4 days, they each pulled me aside to tell me how lucky they felt to be with the other. This is even when traveling abroad and things are stressful and someone is taking forever and someone else is tired or stressed or both. We’ll all be exhausted in the cab, and they will just look at each other and smile.

Where is this happiness coming from? It’s not low expectations. I think my Dad’s expectations of Melinda at this point are quite high (and vice versa). But his appreciation for her is extremely high. My Dad looks at her and sees every amazing quality she has and thanks his lucky stars that she is with him. She does the same with him. Happiness (in a relationship, but also in life) is not about lowering expectations. It’s on the other side of the equation. It’s remembering to feel grateful about when life meets high ones.

It’s not reality minus expectations. It’s appreciation minus reality.