The feeling when you find out that something you had hoped for has not happened.

You feel disappointed when something happens that defeats your hope or aim for something you wanted1. This ‘wanted thing’ can be an object (e.g. a child hoping they get a certain toy for their birthday), an activity (e.g., going out for a hike), an event (e.g. your team winning the match), and so on.

Several factors determine how intensely the disappointment is experienced2. First of all, it depends on how important the hoped-for thing or event is to you. Finding out that a restaurant no longer serves your favorite dessert is disappointing, but not as disappointing as hearing that you did not get hired for your dream job. Secondly, it depends on the length of time that you have been hoping for the fortunate event: you feel more disappointed to be rejected by a person you have been in love with for years, than with someone you fell in love with the previous week. Thirdly, you can feel different levels of disappointment depending on how definitive the outcome is. If you try to get enrolled by a prestigious college but get rejected, you feel more disappointed if you only have one shot, than if you could try again next year.

In the comic, Murphy is hoping to get a date with his co-worker Jennifer. At first, his expectations increase as Jennifer gives him positive answers to his casual questions. However, when he finally asks the actual question, he immediately finds out that she was not interested after all, leaving him behind with crushed dreams.

Movie clips


Typical expressions

“Oh, that’s too bad…”

“I really hoped it was possible…”

Murphy's bad day

Comparisons with other emotions

Disappointment & Sadness

Disappointment and sadness have in common that they are both evoked when you lose something, and you have very little control over the situation. However, sadness implies the loss of something that a person already possessed or maintained – such as a precious object, a good job or a meaningful relationship – whereas disappointment is the loss of the promise or hope of something good – such as the anticipation of getting a promotion or a first date. Therefore, it make sense to say that someone was disappointed when they did not get the promotion they wanted, but it does not make sense to say someone was disappointed when they suddenly lost their job.

Disappointment & Regret

Regret and disappointment are both emotions that you can feel when things do not turn out the way you wanted them. For example, when you have invested some money in a company that bankrupts, you can both regret your decision and be disappointed in the outcome. However, there are quite a few difference between them as well3. First of all, regret is always linked to your own (in)actions, whereas disappointment can also come up outside of your doing. Thus, you can be disappointed that your friend cancels a dinner date, but you can’t regret it. Secondly, in regret you have the strong urge to undo your action, precisely because you are (partly) responsible for what happened afterwards. In disappointment, you were more powerless over what happened, so you have more of a tendency to do nothing or get away from the situation.

Disappointment & Dissatisfaction

When you are unhappy with an outcome or a situation, you can feel either disappointed or dissatisfied. An important difference between the two is the amount of control that you feel you have over the unfulfilling situation. Feeling disappointment implies that you do not feel that you can (currently) change much about it, and that you have to conform to the situation (which puts disappointment closer to sadness). If you are dissatisfied, however, you feel that you do have some control or influence over the unfulfilling situation, and you want it to change (which puts dissatisfaction closer to frustration or annoyance). For example, if you get a room in a hotel with a lumpy bed and no hot shower, you may feel dissatisfied and demand a better room. However, if the room is actually the very last available hotel room in the city, you may feel disappointed instead, since there is very little you can do about it. Another difference is that dissatisfaction implies that you feel entitled to the desired outcome, while in disappointment you merely hoped for it.

Disappointment & Shock

Disappointment and shock can both occur at the moment that you find out about something bad, for example, when finding out you are not getting the promotion you wanted. The important difference is how unexpected it was that you did not get it. If you were certain that the promotion was yours, then you will be shocked to learn you did not get it. If you were however merely hoping or half-expecting that the promotion was coming your way, then you would feel disappointment. Furthermore, shock can also occur when something unexpected happens that is not linked to specific expectations or hopes. For instance, witnessing a car accident can evoke shock, but not disappointment, because you were not having specific expectations about this event.

Sources and further reading