You can measure Allowing & Acceptance in your life—along with the other Perspective subfactors and hundreds more across 50+ factors of well-being—in the Assessment Center. Go check it out!
In the first half of the twentieth century, an American Protestant theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, composed the famous Serenity Prayer:
This simple refrain has empowered countless people to step back and look at their circumstances, whether immediate or long-term, and question their urge to change them.
Niebuhr’s prayer echoes a philosophy that has been resounding across human cultures, and over thousands of years. It whispers of a Buddhist worldview, and at the very least urges the individual to question their perspective when things aren’t going their way.
This call to look inward remains as prudent as ever. Matthieu Ricard said it well:
“What strange hesitancy, fear, or apathy stops us from looking within ourselves, from trying to grasp the true essence of joy and sadness, desire, and hatred? Fear of the unknown prevails, and the courage to explore that inner world fails at the frontier of our mind.” – from his book Happiness
Life can be like a flurry of sensations, each experience like an enticement or attack from the outside, saying “You like this. Oh, you don’t like that” and “Want this. Avoid that.”
Acceptance, like much of Element 3, is a tricky thing. When to accept vs to act, when to zoom in rather than zoom out…it’s a matter of wisdom. Wisdom grows slowly. And, you can become wiser by considering these concepts more regularly and deeply.
We can tell you, almost assuredly, that it would benefit you to practice acceptance more.
All of existence is, and will be, with or without you. Think of this as your ever-present and available starting place. As with Presence, Acceptance allows us to hold preference, but without Attachment, fostering Awareness of circumstances without imposing conditions that would ask us to Control those circumstances.
Exercise: Acceptance Meditation
Meditation is a simple and effective way to practice acceptance from moment to moment. This exercise is based on one from the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in their shared book The Book of Joy.
- Sit comfortably – Crossed-legged is a-ok, and in a chair is great too.
- Close your eyes and breathe – Notice the subtle sensations of breath in your nose and chest.
- Tune in to the surroundings – Notice what you hear around you. Experience the sounds of the environment. Let your awareness expand to include the busy, changing world.
- Tune in to your thoughts – Begin noticing that your own thoughts—especially reactions to sounds and sensations, or even other thoughts—is part of that environment.
- Let the thoughts float away – Remaining present in the moment, seeing these thoughts as external from yourself, simply observe them without judgment, and let them pass.
This basic Mindfulness meditation can be done almost any time, anywhere, and is great for practicing acceptance. For a more focused practice, continue to Part 2.
- Think of a situation that you’re having trouble accepting – It can be anything: a relationship issue, a cultural discomfort, etc. Start with one thing.
- Remind yourself that this is part of the nature of reality – This doesn’t mean to condone. Simply acknowledge that these painful challenges happen to us. They are part of your world, and part of life.
- Acknowledge that you cannot understand every factor that has led to this event.
- Accept that what’s happened has already happened – No matter how much or how often our mind would have us think, we can not change the past. We can only change how we relate to it.
- Tell yourself: “In order to make the best of this situation, for everyone and everything involved, I will accept the reality of its existence.”
“Folks are usually about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” – Abraham Lincoln
So far, this 3rd Element of well-being has been about how we contextualize things: ‘the world,’ the events around us, our own experience, and even our nature as living, breathing animals. We’ve been zooming out substantially, seeking not to take for granted the lenses of lived experience.
A lot of this sounds like “How do I frame this life that’s happening to me?” But that in itself is a lens on our experience. And it turns out that this question—to me or by me?—is a huge one that presents itself to us from moment to moment.
Agency is a funny thing. Wikipedia describes agency in psychology as:
“the ability to perceive and to change the environment of the agent, but crucially, it also entails intentionality to represent the goal-state in the future, equifinal variability to be able to achieve the intended goal-state with different actions in different contexts, and rationality of actions in relation to their goal to produce the most efficient action available.”
As with so many subjects—not the least of which including debates about free will—the truth is complicated. There are so many spectrums of truth, so many ways to live, and way too much information to balance in order to decide how/who to be. Here we are, with a soft, irresolute putty in the palms of our hands, asked “What are you going to do with this? What will you do with your life?”
Without necessarily forming the idea of agency and choice into something in particular, let’s ask a few hard-hitting questions, and see if we can hone in on some of its elements.
- Let’s say you could stop your own suffering. Would you make the choice to do so?
- How much of how you feel is truly not up to you? Could you put a percentage on it? What if you decided to change that percentage?
- What matters to me? Does it ‘have to’ be that way?
“Value” is a uniquely human quality. It doesn’t inherently exist. It is in our minds and under some scope of our control.
“Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – William Shakespeare
It may be the case that you’ve experienced profound difficulty in your life. Even so, don’t think that this means you’re supposed to suffer, or don’t deserve to be happy.
Choice as Self-Compassion, Self-Compassion as Outward Compassion
Allowing and Acceptance isn’t simply a ‘letting go.’ It can be. It can also be an active choice. This choice is about you. Your own well-being is as good a reason as any to take up the bridle of active agency. And, a big part of you is how you relate to others. Choice, as an element of happiness, is not about relentlessly choosing yourself over others. Nor is it about relinquishing the choice of your own well-being to others.
The Dalai Lama, renowned for embodying and teaching compassion, makes a distinction between what he calls “foolish selfishness” and “wise selfishness.” While the first is choosing to think only about yourself, exploiting others if need be, the second involves taking care of others, and choosing to act on behalf of others’ well-being, knowing that this ultimately creates greater happiness for oneself.
In fact, research overwhelmingly proclaims the long-term benefits one reaps by helping others. One meta-analysis of over 50 studies asserts that sincerely acting for the benefit of others boosts one’s own happiness, health, and longevity: “This convergence includes studies on recovery from alcoholism, addiction, and depression; on coping with severe diagnoses and with dying; longevity in older adults and in youth followed over the course of their lifetimes; in neurology, endocrinology, and immunology; and on self-reported happiness as well as the “helper’s high” in relation to thresholds of volunteerism. The conclusion of this review is that when we help others, we help ourselves, with the caveat that we need balance in our lives and should not be overwhelmed. The evidence for the benefits of giving is now extremely powerful, and suggests that healthcare professionals might wish to recommend such activities to patients.”1
Exercise: Reclaimed Choice as Compassion
We’re going to do something hard. Although, this is going to make the doing easier and easier.
Consider someone who has ‘hurt’ you in the past. It may be helpful to start with a person/scenario that doesn’t cut so deep. But do think of something that stings, and continues to upset you from time to time.
- Without including value judgments, recount what happened. Be strictly objective here.
Think cold hard truth and facts only.
Write it down, keeping it under one paragraph.
- Keeping your present self distance from this past experience, recount some of the ways you felt as a reaction to these events. Do your best to remove blame from the words used to describe your feelings. You can use this list of feelings to help.
Again, write it. If you’d like to keep it simple, you can make this a small list of those feelings.
- Consider the other person. Think of them floating alone in a void. Nobody and nothing else is around them. It’s just them and their thoughts. Consider how they may experience fear and loneliness. Consider how they may be suffering internally. Now, imagine them with that suffering, growing old and frail. They wrinkle around the eyes and feel confusion as time passes. This is them and their suffering.
Now, imagine yourself in a different void, also aging, suffering, living.
Return to this other person’s void. Do this until any feelings of triumph or vindication are gone. It’s important to recognize this other person as an autonomous being, with their own life and their own suffering.
Let yourself begin to feel the natural, solemn sense of benevolence that arises.
The sympathy that you feel toward these two people, like your feelings from before, is also exclusively yours.Write down some of the feelings you are having now. You can be looser with your definition of ‘feelings’ here and list things like ‘caring’ or ‘concerned.’
Your experience is your choice. This is one among many tools that you can practice to hone your ability to choose how you reflect upon hardship. Compassion, like Forgiveness, needn’t be something you grant to others in an exchange of power. Rather, it is something you grant yourself by choosing.
“We don’t need more money, we don’t need greater success or fame, we don’t need the perfect body or even the perfect mate–right now, at this very moment, we have a mind, which is all the basic equipment we need to achieve complete happiness.” –from the Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness
Your Storied Life & 100% Responsibility
“A person can make himself happy, or miserable, regardless of what is actually happening ‘outside,’ just by changing the contents of consciousness. We all know individuals who can transform hopeless situations into challenges to be overcome, just through the force of their personalities. This ability to persevere despite obstacles and setbacks is the quality people most admire in others, and justly so; it is probably the most important trait not only for succeeding in life, but for enjoying it as well. To develop this trait, one must find ways to order consciousness so as to be in control of feelings and thoughts. It is best not to expect shortcuts will do the trick.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow
We’ve now touched on the power we hold over our internal experience. Its importance can’t be understated. And yet, the simplicity of it is easily overstated. It is no small thing to grow this ability.
For this reason, we have 2 chapters on this site to recommend. In each, we explore theories and methods for understanding and owning one’s own lived experience. You’ll find many tools and exercises in each section that will aid you in growing Element 3 well-being.
Your Storied Life
“Creating your destiny is about steadily heading toward your well-being and your ultimate nature, no matter what the content of life is around you. It simply means making yourself in such a way that, whatever the events and situations around you, you don’t get crushed by them; you ride them.” – Sadhguru
“We take greater pains to persuade others we are happy than in trying to think so ourselves.” – Confucius
YSL is a framework that addresses identity, narrative, ontology and ‘reality,’ and the mechanisms that make up our lived experiences.
“Taking personal responsibility means never blaming someone else or the circumstances for how you feel. It means figuring out ways to be happy despite others’ actions and despite the external circumstances.” – Raj Raghunathan, If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?
100% Responsibility is a philosophy that reclaims ownership over your internal experience. The concepts here will empower autonomy and self-efficacy throughout your life.
- Post, S. (2011). It’s good to be good: 2011 fifth annual scientific report on health, happiness and helping others. the International Journal of Person-Centered Medicine, 1, 814-829.