Why Acceptance May Be Your Ticket to Peace and Happiness in 2022
Despite the unpredictability of the last two years, January always seems to elicit excitement and engender a strong desire to get out a blank piece of paper and pen to make a list of New Year’s resolutions. You too? Before you pick up your writing utensil, I have a better idea for you that hopefully also lightens your mountain-heavy mom-to-do-list load. No new diet plans (because they suck), or exercise directives (because they suck too), and no promises to stop swearing (because you won’t, and @#$% parenting is HARD sometimes). Nope, just take a deep breath and make one resolution this year: Acceptance. That’s right. Instead of resolving to change anything, accept everything.
I first started mulling the idea of total acceptance in therapy, because I was bemoaning the ridiculously insane state of the housing market right now (#wererenting #wishwecouldbuynow). Initially, my incredible therapist who I love more than, well, a LOT of people and things, instructed me to do what she often instructs me to do: Slow down my rant and focus on the things within my control. A few deep breaths later, I admitted I definitely don’t have anyyyyy control over this nutso real-estate situation. My therapist (obviously) agreed, and told me that because I have no immediate or far-reaching control over, say, interest rates or housing market inventory, the only kind and healthy thing to do for myself was to simply let it all go… and accept it.
Yep, accept it.
At first the idea felt frustrating, but the more I’ve sat with it and thought about acceptance, I realized there are SO many things in life we — again, as much as our mom-superwoman powers would try to have us believe otherwise— cannot change. And, moreover, when we focus on accepting what is, we’re committing to living mindfully and deeply in the present, the here and now.
According to scientists, most people spend only THREE seconds actually living in the present. Is that as shocking to you as it is to me? A mere three seconds? If that’s true, then we’re living almost completely in the past, looking at and thinking about things we cannot change, or trying to peer into the future. And you sure as heck know we can’t do anything about what’s going to happen then.
You don’t have a time machine or a crystal ball, right?
To me, total acceptance feels luxuriously liberating and incredibly stress-reducing. There’s no pressure to change, to act, or to do. But if you’re not convinced, consider some of the things I’m going to work on fully accepting in 2022, and how you would feel if you accepted them too:
- The state of the world: Well, duh. I know. Unless you have some big ‘ole god complex going on, this one is a given, but I’m serious. I have gotten myself in so many spirals this past year over the state of Covid, racial and political divisiveness, gun violence, and climate change. But, while I by no means believe we are powerless to make an impact in any one of these areas, I learned that I can’t walk around consumed by them and wishing things were different. Instead, I can focus on tiny and progressive actions within my control like conserving electricity or broadening the literature and podcasts I consume to include a greater diversity of voices. Check out these articles too: Don’t Stop Talking About Race, and Finding Common Ground.
- My body. If you’ve read my post about stepping off the scale, you’re already familiar with my decades-long battle to stop obsessing about my weight. But, much of this work has been about first accepting my body. I one thousand percent support anyone wanting to look and feel her best, but there are immutable realities we all need to face about our bodies such as our height, our bone structure, the length (or in my case, non-length) of our legs. And, by accepting what our bodies are, we’re able to accept what our bodies can and can’t do. For example, as much as I love running and want to one day run a marathon, my knees don’t. Every time I try to pick up running again, I end up with sore and achy joints. What are your natural strengths and what are your limitations? What can you stop fighting to change and instead, simply accept? Again, I want to stress this does not mean giving up on getting healthy or doing whatever you really want to do to feel your best, but I promise that there’s also so much joy in letting go of goals that don’t make sense or aren’t working for YOU.
- My spouse, my kids, my family or friends. How many times have you begged your husband to put away his “_______!” or, lamented another car ride/dinner outing/family trip “ruined” by a child losing his or her little mind. Here’s the thing I’ve learned after more than a decade of marriage and nearly eight years of parenting: Husbands are going to make you angry (and you them). Kids are going to whine and have tantrums, and complain you’re ruining their lives. Accepting others–be it your immediate family or your more remote friends and acquaintances–is hard sometimes, but it’s truly liberating too. If you want more information and practical exercises to help you do this work, read Accept Them As They Are, and breathe deep when you feel your kiddo’s next meltdown coming on, or see your husband’s favorite sweatshirt strewn across the bathroom floor.
- Our humanity and infallibility. You are human. No really, you are. And with that fact comes many others such as injury, illness, and aging. You will hurt yourself in your life— be it a scratch or cut or small burn, or god forbid something bigger, but it’s unrealistic to expect to move through life without ever getting physically or emotionally hurt. It’s absolutely going to happen, just like you will get headaches, colds, stomach aches, and likely, a bout of flu or two at some point. I used to spend SO much time worrying about illness and injury, that I pretty much made myself sick. Now, every time I fear actually getting sick or hurt, I think about the absolute fact that I am human and WILL get sick and hurt. Possibly counter-intuitive, but accepting the truth of this takes away a lot of the fear and anxiety.
- Aging. Let’s quickly review the lesson we learned in #4: You are a mammal. You are human. You are going to get paper cuts and other pains, and you’re going to get older too. Your kids are going to get older. We only have a very, very finite period of time to do life. Instead of letting age or the speeding passage of time scare you, accept it. Not to pound away at a point already made, but again: accepting does equal apathy. I care a whole lot about how I’m spending my— as writer and activist Glennon Doyle terms “one precious life,”— but I try not to think about time lost or time that will pass, and instead focus on making the time I do have the best possible.
And maybe that’s another way to look at this whole thing. When I described the topic and content of this post to my husband, he said, “So you’re basically telling people to make the best of the things they have and who they are?” Maybe. And if it helps you to think about it through that lens, go for it.
But remember: Acceptance isn’t passivity, relinquishing responsibility, or acquiescing to everything. Acceptance isn’t agreeing with, liking, or not wanting to change things. Accepting is just, well..accepting. Accepting the tantrums and tireless nights, the dual desires to want to change and trust our bodies, the state of the housing market and climate. Accepting the meltdowns and blowouts, the highs and lows of all of it, and then letting it all go.
I wanted to leave you with a killer quote, and in googling “quotes about acceptance” I found a goldmine of good ones– but here are a few I am loving right now:
“Happiness can exist only in acceptance.”- George Orwell
“Accept – then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it.”- Eckhart Tolle
“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn
“Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation; it means understanding that something is what it is and that there’s got to be a way through it.”- Michael J. Fox
If I’ve convinced you to get on board the acceptance-train with me, send me your thoughts on what you’re committing to embrace in the new year. I’ll happily accept them all.