The Art of Acceptance

The Art of Acceptance

Our Quest for happiness is perhaps instinctual, deriving from our earliest experiences for pleasure and gratification. Anyone who’s familiar with babies will be familiar with the sense of upset or anger when a pleasurable state is interrupted, yet even as adults we rarely come to terms with the fact that good and bad are opposite sides of the same coin. Understanding that things that make pleasure possible can also be a source of misery is just one element to the art of acceptance.

The Art of Acceptance, or how to let things be.

Misery is also not just an absence of pleasure, but is also caused by unmet expectations and aspirations, and by a continuous need for approval in our personal and professional lives. These disappointments, some big and some small, cause some people a lot of stress and anxiety and may result in depression or other mental illnesses. But despite the imperfection in one’s professional or personal situation, psychologists and therapists believe a lot of this struggle and stress is avoidable with a simple technique, acceptance, or to let things be. 

What is Acceptance

A standard acceptance definition in psychology is a person’s assent to the reality of a situation, recognizing a process or condition (often a negative or uncomfortable situation) without attempting to change or protest it. 

Acceptance does not equate to approval, which is more about having a good opinion of someone (or something) but is more a subtle feeling that connotes there is something in the situation less than appealing, but for various reasons we tolerate its imperfections.

A Lesson from the Beatles

Let it be, was the Beatles highest debuting single on the Billboard Hot 100, and their final single before Paul McCartney announced his departure from the band. The song, written by McCartney, was inspired by a dream he had of his mother who died of cancer when he was fourteen. During a tense period for The Beatle, recording the White Album in 1968 with members asserting individual artistic agendas, McCartney’s mother came to him in a dream whispering these wise words, “It will be all right, just let it be.”

The Beatles, Let it Be

McCartney, in a later interview, recalled waking up and remembering the dream, and thought, ‘Well, that’s a great idea.‘ Mary was McCartney’s mother’s name.

When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom
Let it be
And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom
Let it be

Let it be, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom
Let it be

McCartney’s decision to leave the Beatles came shortly after the release of the single; despite being his own decision, McCartney was devastated, and the ensuing lawsuits and contract releases were dubbed by Time magazine as Beatledämmerung, in reference to Wagner’s opera about a war among the gods. Later, when asked whether he regretted it, McCartney replied philosophically:

“Yeah, actually. You’d have to say the way The Beatles broke up was a bit untidy, a bit ugly. We were such a great little band, it would’ve been nice to just continue on, but the business side really crept in and got a bit sticky. I regret that. If I could have reversed that scenario, it wouldn’t have been a bad idea. But otherwise, no regrets, really. You do what you do, and try and make things work out, and have a bit of fun while you’re doin’ it. That’s the story for me, these days.”

Practicing Acceptance, or the Philosophy of Let it Be

Acceptance then, or the philosophy of Let it be, can help us accept a difficult situation, or the ups and downs we experience in everyday life. Let it be means let go, relax, don’t worry about your troubles. These words of comfort remind us not to think about sad things too much, to accept the bad things that have happened or bad decisions we have made, especially if there is no way we can change the situation.

Let it be is a beautiful reminder that you do not hold all the strings. You are not always in the driver’s seat and that you are not responsible for everything.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance and commitment therapy, or ACT, is a form of counseling that uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies to allow people to open up to unpleasant feelings. ACT teaches to just notice, accept, and embrace private events, especially previously unwanted ones, rather than react to them.

Learn how to let go, don’t bottle things up

ACT is not passive acceptance of painful emotions or psychological experiences, but an active approach through mindful behavior, attention to personal values, and commitment to action to help people change their attitudes. The change in attitude, acceptance – or learning to let things go, can be more effective than just trying to suppress negative emotions as bottling things up often just leads to more distress.

What to Accept?

When we recall happy memories, we are often nostalgic, and remind ourselves how things used to be. When we recall less happy events, there is a tendency to hold on to those unhappy memories too. My own father, for a full five years after he retired, would complain about his ex-boss on a daily basis. His constant rumination made him resentful and angry and caused a lot of suffering. If he learned to accept and let go, the suffering would likely go too.

“What you resist, persists.”
– Carl Jung

Accepting the reality of our situation allows us to move forward and gives us more energy to focus on the present moment, to feel grateful for the people and things we have now.

Does Acceptance Mean Conformity and Mediocrity?

By the time I was at high school, I’d already resigned myself to the idea that I was not put on this earth to be a mathematician, astronaut or engineer and scraping through an algebra test with a bare-minimum passing grade used to make me really happy. Fast forward to today in Seoul where my two daughters go to school, it is a regular occurrence for high schoolers to score 100% not just on math tests, but across all the science subjects. Did my acceptance make me mediocre?

Acceptance doesn’t mean conformity and mediocrity

If it’s within your ability do better in a math tests, or a sports events, then you should do better. Acceptance shouldn’t be a drain on ingenuity and growth. If you are born poor and underprivileged, acceptance is not going to take you very far. Acceptance is not defeatist way of saying, that’s the way it is, there is nothing I can do about it, it’s not about being lazy, but it may be about picking the important fights and forgiving past mistakes.

The Art of Acceptance

Writing this article taught me that there are times in our life where circumstances force us to accept the way things are, to accept our own limitations, to accept our current situation. There are times when we should  be philosophical and be grateful for what we have.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.

– The Serenity Prayer

And this, my dear friend is your Quest.

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