Our lives are composed of a spectrum of experiences. Some experiences pleasurable, and some very painful. We can favorably change the balance between the pleasurable and painful moments but no matter how healthy our choices or how skilled at living we become, we can’t eliminate pain. Life is difficult because we live in an impermanent and unpredictable world. We lose people we love and encounter circumstances that disrupt. We suffer from disloyalty of people we trust and fall victim to violence and theft. Life may change without warning, destroying well-laid plans, sending our futures into a spin. But even through the chaos, we can grasp peace and experience joy when we accept life as it is.
The list of life-disrupting happenings is long. We can prepare and avoid some. But our work isn’t paving an easy path through the world. Well-being requires a balanced front of avoidance and patience, minimizing pain while increasing skills to process the disruptions. We must artfully face unwanted changes, dreaded endings, altered plans, unfairness, suffering, disloyalty and lack of love while still maintaining the ability to love, give, and find inner peace.
Instead of, “why did this happen to me?” we learn to ask, “Being this is what happened, now what?”
Acceptance in wellness psychology refers to non-judgmental awareness and actively embracing thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations as they occur. Acceptance does not refer to resigning to life circumstances as they are in the present.
Accepting Life as It Is
The very act of opposing what has happened magnifies the pain these moments inflict. By accepting life as it is, we process the unpleasant givens in a more flexible way. When we do not dread what is, we better attune to the inherent conflicts.
Carl Jung succinctly expressed this attitude, “givens can be embraced with an unconditional yes to that which is, without subjective protests, an acceptance of the conditions of existence… an acceptance of my own nature as I happen to be.”
By our acceptance of life on life’s terms, we learn from experience rather than regret it. Life becomes an endless adventure, with a wonderous spectrum of emotions. Experience becomes richer, and our openness expands. When we are overly burdened with a strict set of rules dictating how life should be, we feel an adverse reaction from the constant flow of disappointments. The unrealistic expectations create conflict with the world.
“By accepting life as it is, we process the unpleasant givens in a more flexible way. When we do not dread what is, we better attune to the inherent conflicts.”
“Life is full of situations that shouldn’t be the way they are! Sometimes you can fix these situations, but sometimes you can’t. Accepting things as they are is a powerful way to cope with situations that you don’t want or that shouldn’t happen.” ~Rachel Chang, Psy.D.
Accepting the Emotions Life Generates
We experience through emotions. We feel sad when losing something we cherish, angry when treated unjustly, and feel joy when experiencing safety and appreciation. The fact is we respond emotionally to the world. Some people are more aware of their experience. Others have disconnected from much of the feeling of living; but we all emotionally respond to events whether we consciously detect the emotions or not. It doesn’t matter how healthy we are or how skilled at the task of living, we will continue to experience life through pleasurable and painful emotions.
Some philosophies preach that we should disconnect from the world to mitigate the emotions. This may work for some. Personally, it’s not the life I prefer. I enjoy the richness of emotion. I have discovered that traditionally discomforting emotions lose their sting when we welcome experience, understanding sadness and hurt are acceptable. We welcome feeling as a part of normal interaction in an unpredictable world.
Fears of Betrayal and Accepting Life
By embracing life as it is, we open ourselves to the possibility of betrayal. However, we accept that by allowing people into our life, we become vulnerable. Significantly, we understand that with hopes, expectations and desires also comes occasional disappointments. But, we also understand that efforts directed towards achievements occasionally lead to discouraging failures.
I admit, I don’t sing at my first waking moments, “I am so glad to be alive.” Some morning I am tired, discouraged or sick. I would rather wrap myself up in a blanket and go back to sleep. Most mornings, I don’t. I get up and live, experiencing a multitude of underlying moods. No doubt, I enjoy and appreciate the days where the whole world appears sunny and bright, yet those days come and go. I bless them, enjoy them and then without greed allow them to leave.
There are also days full of dull grey which pass my way. I must accept them also, gather wisdom and allow them to linger without fruitless resistance. Because I understand that all days—good and bad—are part of an emotional existence. Each day will pass in its own time; and with this knowledge, I avoid the hopeless desperation of never ending grey days. The feelings will change. My moods will vary.
When we hurt, we may not feel gratitude for the wisdom being imparted. I don’t revel in these moments. We can compassionately allow ourselves to hurt without complicating the feeling with harsh judgments, scrambling desperately to deny the hurt and force joy.
Guilt and Acceptance
We shouldn’t feel guilty for not being stronger, more courageous, or impenetrable. I understand that hurt provides the opportunity to gain wisdom and strengthen compassion for others. It gives us patience to embrace others in their moment of hurt. The pain we experience allows us to understand our humanity and vulnerability to the world. It’s through vulnerability that we discover the sweetness of comfort and companionship.
We cause much of our own pain by wasting energy trying to eradicate some of the discomforting feelings of living, denying reality, and hating emotion. We wrongfully hope for a world devoid of pain. By comparing the imperfect world we live in with an unattainable ideal and we are disappointed. The more we fight reality, the greater the dissatisfaction.
Accepting Life as a Mindless Regulation Technique
An attitude of acceptance can help regulate emotions without even breaking into consciousness. When we accept that people, and situations will march to a different beat than ours, the occasional bumps of differences fail to arouse feelings to a point they break into consciousness. Our acceptance serves as a regulator. A psychology study showed that “participants mindlessly primed with words that helped control their emotions reacted with a lower heart rate and lower blood pressure when approached by an obnoxious actor” (2014, Kindle location 1,923).
Todd Kashdan and Biswas-Diener explain that “very sophisticated goals, such as tolerating toxic people and our own distress, can be realized without any conscious, deliberate action on our part. Second, these mindless acts of emotion regulation appear to be cost-free, in that people show not only less distress but also less physiological damage” (2014).
Basically, when we jump on social media to broadcast every woe from normal brushes of reality in a complex world, we are amplifying emotions, allowing them to playout in our narrative of victimization. We not only suffer cognitively from these discomforting emotions but by feeding the arousal we also damage ourselves physically. In psychology, according to the diathesis stress model, heightened and prolonged stress damage our internal organs. Accepting life as it is mediates stress, regulating arousal and thereby improving our health.
The world, just the way it is, offers much beauty. We can stand in breathless curiosity, respecting life on its terms, welcoming the whole array of emotions flowing from this wonderful and challenging experience.
Chang, Rachel (2020). Accepting Things As They Are: Why and How to Do It. 9-14-2020. Accessed 4-3-2023
Kashdan, Todd B.; Biswas-Diener, Robert (2014). The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self–Not Just Your “Good” Self–Drives Success and Fulfillment. Avery.
Sperber, Sarah (2022) Acceptance: Definition, Theory, & Tips. Published 2-15-2022. Accessed 4-3-2023