Is acceptance the key to the good life?

A balanced and stress-free life can come from practising what the Greek and Roman Stoic philosophers called the ‘art of acquiescence’. Broadly speaking this requires an acceptance of events that you cannot control. You may fear the unexpected, but the Stoics would tell you that this is simply a waste of emotional energy.

Life is full of highs and lows, but you must learn to accept all events and have faith in your response — this is the only part of your life that you can truly control.

Acceptance is a choice.

In order to lift yourself up you need to practise self-acceptance too. Accepting your imperfections will allow you to grow and flourish. None of us are perfect but aiming to be the best versions of ourselves can give rise to contentment.

Stoic philosopher, Epictetus wrote,

‘Don’t seek for everything to happen as you wish it would, but rather wish that everything happens as it actually will — then your life will flow as well’.

Similarly, 6th century Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, advised that,

‘Life is a series of natural spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like’.

Imagine the events of your life as twigs and leaves being carried by a fast-flowing river. The waxy leaves could represent life’s smooth and joyous events while the sharper twigs could represent some of life’s more challenging times. The river rapids will carry both along without long-term incident. Some may become trapped temporarily by rocks or collected by nest-making birds and disappear, but most will flow away in the end. There is little that could be done to stop the journey of the twigs or leaves, and once they have flowed through, more will appear.

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

Viewing life as a fast paced, ever changing existence full of unexpected events that will happen whether you want them to or not can help you to practise acceptance.

Try thinking of your life as fluid; events happen and then pass; people come into your life and some will leave, as will you. You are not passively allowing things to happen to you but instead are actively experiencing their presence like the rapid river. Some of these occurrences will hurt you, but you will heal; some will bring elation, but this too shall pass, or the feeling will reduce in intensity.

Often you will not have a choice about the things that happen to you: a break up of a relationship, the death of a loved one, the loss of a home or job, involvement in a terror attack, or even an addiction which may have developed because of a previous incident in your life which was beyond your control.

Similarly, good things that happen may also exist beyond your sphere of control: a chance meeting with a stranger whom you subsequently befriend or marry, an unexpected pregnancy after years of IVF or a conversation with a stranger on a train who leads you into your dream job.

If we will accept the latter incidents, we must be ready to accept the former. The good life is a life full up of all types of events.

The pursuit of the good life does not mean that you are trying to create a life filled only with positive moments — this would be unrealistic, and you will be heading for an almighty crash if you think this is possible.

It is not only impossible; it is also undesirable.

When we are faced with challenges, we are learning — this is desirable. When we must deal with a bereavement, we are learning about ourselves and our tenacity to cope, and we are understanding our capacity to love and remember. We learn about the strength of our relationships with others and that life does go on and while you may not want it to go on without your lost loved one, it does, regardless.

If we stop categorising events in our lives as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and just start to view them just as ‘experiences’ we can become more robust and less fearful of certain incidents. Viewing each event in your life as something from which you can learn and grow as opposed to something that can lift you in the short term or crush you in the long-term.

Nothing is certain to continue forever.

When you marry you make a commitment to live within the partnership until you die. This may have been your intention; however, love can fade or be betrayed. You may not have wanted to feel like this or have someone fall out of love with you, but it happens, and while it hurts like hell; these feelings dissipate, and your heart and mind will heal ready to love and be loved again and again.

Photo by Ben Rosett on Unsplash

While I am not advocating thinking about the worst-case scenario when you are faced with life’s journey, I do think that it is healthy to accept early on that what exists at this present moment may not exist in the future. This includes feelings of pain, confusion, love, excitement, stress and grief. I have found that thinking in this way has helped me to appreciate and not take for granted those whom I love.

Try these four mindshifts today to help you develop the art of acceptance:

  • Acknowledge that acceptance is a choice. You alone decide how to react to life’s events.
  • You cannot change the past. There is no point dwelling on what has happened or what should or could have been. This achieves nothing but the prolonging of agonising thoughts.
  • Do not take things or people for granted as change is inevitable. Love/money/careers can be easy to come by but are just as easy to lose.
  • Do not base your perceived happiness around other people or material possessions. If they are lost or leave you, you will struggle to cope. Instead, focus on yourself and your inner mental strength. Everything will flow from and to this.

Download my free e-book guide, Mindset7 for a week of motivational tips to balance your outlook on life.

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Hannah Young

I write about education, wellbeing, digital content creation & marketing www.hexis21.com