The Power of Disappointment

Dreams and aspirations are a natural yet risky part of life. When goals are met, positive emotions are had. There is a sense of relief, fulfillment, achievement, and pride. Once celebrations conclude and all resume to normal life, one’s thoughts wander to what novel dreams and accomplishments can be made. Similarly, in the darkness of life events, there are pains and sadness felt by experiences that did not yield the believed fruits of labor and desires. Despite persistently sowing, no harvest was reaped for efforts, which leaves past dreams lost. “We are all disappointed in our own way” (Chandler, 2010, p. 604). Bronstein (2015) posited that, “our desires and aspirations are met regularly with nonfulfillment” (p. 1173). These “emotions have a powerful impact on our lives: They shape our behavior” (Marcatto & Ferrante, 2008, p. 87). Negative and painful feelings ensue where we wished “we had made a better decision” (Marcatto & Ferrante, 2008, p. 87). In life, there are “many kinds of [disappointments that] exist for different reasons and with different consequences” that surface from their presence (Chandler, 2010, p. 606). Within the film Fences—directed by Denzel Washington—the Maxson family, comprised of husband, wife, and son, experience momentous disappointments that influence the trajectory of their independent and interconnected lives.

“We feel disappointed when we find ourselves wishing that events of the world had turned out better for us” (Marcatto & Ferrante, 2008, p. 87). At times, hopes that one has appear distant. If obtained, luck may be attributed to its attainment. Other times, the opportunity to reach one’s goal is in eye’s sight, and when not obtained, one questions what can be done to remedy the situation. When the response is that nothing will change the undesired outcome, one wonders what could have been done differently. 

As disappointment arises, there becomes a comparison between “‘What is’ with ‘What might have been’” (Marcatto & Ferrante, 2008, p. 87). Bronstein (2015) cited, “I cannot think of any aspect of life that does not involve some sense of disappointment” (p. 1173), normalizing this emotional experience. He continued that,

The degree and persistence feelings of disappointment can vary greatly: it can fuel and promote development, helping us search for new experiences, new ideas, and new ways of communicating, but it can also become pervasive and hinder progress and emotional development (Bronstein, 2015, p. 1173). 

Researchers have found that “feelings of dissatisfaction and disappointment are strongest where the chances for corrective reaction are clearest” (Roese & Summerville, 2005, p. 1274). Members of the Maxson family remained cognizant of the presence of alternative lifestyles; one’s that included fame, success, fulfilled marriages, and pursuits of dreams. Yet the influence of societal pressures, family systemic patterns, and individual lifestyle choices negatively impacted the family from embarking upon corrective journeys.

To read more, find Fences, Chapter 2 in Best Psychology in Film:


Bronstein, C. (2015). The analyst’s disappointment: An everyday struggle. JAPA, 63(3), 1173-1192.

Marcatto, F. & Ferrante, D. (2008). The regret and disappointment scale: An instrument for assessing regret and disappointment in decision making.Judgment and Decision Making, 3(1), 87-99.

Roese, N.J. & Summerville, A. (2005). What we regret most….and why. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31(9), 1273-1285.