I used to think that the Buddhist theory of acceptance was a defeatist approach to life. The idea behind acceptance is that we stop fighting what is, and that we just accept it. For anyone who has any amount of gumption, that seems like a depressing approach! If you are someone who likes to attack life, then “accepting what is” feels like capitulation.
But acceptance isn’t capitulation. When we accept what is, we don’t stop trying to improve ourselves and our lives. Instead, as the Serenity Prayer says, we accept the things we can’t change, and we pray for the courage to change what we can. That approach to life is truly liberating!
Below are some ways to practice acceptance. Try using them to transform your life for the better.
Accept Other People: You cannot change other people. I’ve tried. It doesn’t work. Trying to change others is simply a fast-track way to destroy your relationships.
Why? Because good relationships require acceptance. How can I like you (or love you!) if you don’t accept me for who I am?
You have two choices in every relationship. You can either accept the other person, or you can choose not to accept that person and stop being in a relationship with him or her. But don’t be in a relationship with the goal of changing someone. That approach will only make that person dislike you. Worse yet, if you keep trying to change someone to serve your needs, ultimately, you will damage that person’s self-esteem.
I once spoke with a lady who had a long-term, happy marriage. She told me, “The secret to our relationship is that Greg and I have never tried to change each other. If we had, that would have been the death knell for our marriage. We’ve always accepted one another.”
When we accept others, warts and all, we show them true love. We show them that our love isn’t dependent on whether they are meeting our needs. Instead, we love them because we are delighted to have them in our lives, just as they are. There is no greater relationship booster than that!
Accept Your Past: No one has a perfect past. We’ve all suffered due to the unfortunate behavior of others. And we each have caused others to suffer. It is all regrettable.
But the past is, well, the past. There is nothing that you can do about it. You can’t go back in time and change it.
Accepting that fact is hard. It is particularly hard for people who have endured traumatic experiences. There is no way to make sense of those experiences. Unfortunately, there is a lot of needless, inexplicable suffering in the world.
One way to accept your past is to realize that our negative experiences can have value. Surviving bad experiences can make us wiser because we come to understand the good and bad of other people. Those experiences also can make us stronger. We don’t become resilient until we are tested.
Similarly, if we have behaved poorly in the past, we don’t have to live in a state of regret and shame. We all make mistakes. We all do unfortunate things. Those experiences don’t have to be pointless. They have value if we use them to become humbler and less judgmental of others. It is easy to point fingers at others. It takes wisdom to say, “I am human, and I could have made that mistake, too.”
Accept Yourself: There are many people in this world who have not learned to accept themselves. As a result, they lack confidence. And they go through life at the mercy of others. A small insult or unkind comment from someone else can wound their self-esteem.
When we accept ourselves, we are confident in who we are. That is because we aren’t trying to fix ourselves. Yes, of course, we always should be trying to grow in wisdom and maturity. But when we accept ourselves, we like who we fundamentally are.
For instance, I don’t look at anyone else and think, “Wow. I wish I was that person.” I am perfectly happy being me. I accept myself. Of course, I’m by no means perfect. I’m not the most beautiful or the smartest. But I am happy with the package of qualities that I have. I can work with them!
Unfortunately, we live in a world in which we often aren’t accepted. You may not be accepted for the color of your skin. Or your gender. Or your sexuality. Some folks may not like your personality. But when you’ve accepted yourself, the opinions of others don’t matter.
So, if someone criticizes me, my feelings may be hurt. But I’ve accepted myself. I’m not interested in changing myself to suit the desires of others. As a result, while I may be hurt by an unkind comment, it has no bearing on my opinion of myself. I simply may be sad that the other person doesn’t like me as much as I like me!
When you accept yourself, you are liberated from the opinions of others. They just don’t matter. And that allows you to go into the world confidently, with a shield that protects you from the occasional unkind remark.
Consider developing the life changing skill of acceptance. It truly will lead to greater happiness and peace in your life.