By: S. Kaur
Happiness isn’t a constant — it’s an ever-evolving state, mirroring the constant work that goes into the practice of acceptance.
I want to first acknowledge that this piece is written from a point of privilege. I have a roof over my head, I have food in my fridge, and I have clothes that keep my body warm.
This pandemic hit my family hard — my younger cousin committed suicide over the summer, my parents lost a 20-year business, I lost my job in April, and both my parents and my partner are in industries that are struggling incredibly hard right now.
Despite this, my loved ones and I are safe and healthy, while millions are not. I am aware of this and want to acknowledge that the following insight is applicable to those privileged enough to apply it.
How often do you feel disappointed in the people that you love? How often do you feel let down, frustrated, angry, or hurt?
How have you been processing the reality that this global pandemic has hit a peak that no one could possibly have anticipated, and how much are you struggling to cope with it?
How many times have you looked in the mirror, wishing your features were different, your body shape was different, your [insert relevant noun here] was different?
I can tell you that the times I have experienced everything above is innumerable.
Despite the blessings I have in my life, I find myself living with a constant overcast of doubt and dissatisfaction. Of frustration and even fear.
My boyfriend is sweet and loving, but he oftentimes makes mistakes that bother me. My friends are cool, but they don’t always show up for me the way I want them to. I work out daily and watch what I eat, but I was born into a thicker, broader-boned body that will never be considered “thin” without severe calorie restriction. I have money in my bank account during a global pandemic when millions are suffering, but it’s not enough to buy organic everything or give me any hope that I’ll own my own home in the next five years.
I’ve been thinking about why I can’t simply allow myself to be happy, and it’s dawned on me that the culprit is expectation. The root of my ennui, the root of my dissatisfaction, is expectation.
It is expectation that robs most of us of our happiness — the expectation that there will be a certain outcome, a certain result, a certain reaction.
How do we alleviate the burden of expectation? Acceptance.
Now, this isn’t to say that you can’t expect loyalty from your life partner or safety when you visit your family. But I’m speaking to something broader. A broader acceptance of your life circumstances and the people you let into your life.
If you stop and think about how much power you give the people in your life to impact your mood, your security, your thoughts, you will probably find that you’d be a lot happier if you took that power back from them.
And if you stop to think how much negativity you feel about situations that you really have no control over, you’ll find peace by releasing your worry and focusing your energies on what you actually can impact.
Over the last several months, I’ve found a degree of contentment that I’ve never experienced before, and I’ve come to a space of emotional safety and comfort that I didn’t think would be possible for me, given my struggles with depression and anxiety.
Here are the four key practices that helped me get here.
1. Acknowledge Without Judging
Instead of placing judgment on people or situations, simply see them exactly as they are.
For instance, you’re not a failure for not following your diet…you simply didn’t follow your diet. And your friend isn’t a crappy person for not showing up on time…she simply didn’t show up on time. When we judge, we usually err on the side of negativity or criticism, which can foster feelings that promote toxicity, anxiety, or sadness. When we just say, “Okay, this thing is what this thing is. Period,” it becomes easier to move on from it.
Not judging doesn’t mean not acknowledging, though. This doesn’t mean you don’t acknowledge how something makes you feel. “This makes me sad because I thought so-and-so would do this for me” is very different from “This makes me sad because I thought so-and-so would do this for me, and she must not care about me the way I thought she did.” The first is just acknowledging, the second formed a judgment.
2. Detach From Outcomes
Your value is not predicated upon anyone or anything. If you are getting ready for a promotion and end up not getting it, your value is not in any way impacted by that outcome. You will be okay with the promotion, and you will be okay without the promotion.
Detaching from outcomes doesn’t mean you don’t aspire or work hard. It means you do everything you can to get to where you want to go, but embrace the reality that things may not unfold as you wish or expect them to.
Detaching from outcomes means you truly understand that you’ll be fine just as you are. My favorite mantra is “Everything I need is right inside of me. Happiness is mine, and peace is within me.” Everything you truly need is already inside of you already. Outcomes are external, acceptance of those outcomes means prioritizing the internal.
3. Learn To Let Go
One of my biggest character flaws is I obsess over things. I grab onto things with the tenacity of a hungry terrier, and I refuse to give myself peace. I antagonize myself with things I have no control over. I hold onto my beliefs that things should have gone a certain way, people should have or not have done certain things.
The person who suffers the most from my obsession? Me.
Something that has saved me a lot of literal headaches (because my obsessiveness would actually give me physical headaches) is to go through a list of questions:
- Will this person change just because I want them to?
- Will fretting about this make a difference?
- Am I wasting time, energy, sleep, or mental real estate over this?
- Am I holding myself back from focusing on other things?
- Am I telling myself a narrative that I can change this thing, when I know in my gut that’s not true?
- Am I allowing this thing to impact my mental/physical/emotional/financial health?
- Will I be healthier and happier if I just move on from this?
If the answer to most of these questions is “yes,” then I take a deep, deep breath and let it out. I visualize myself releasing myself from the handcuffs I’ve placed myself in, I visualize the problem melting away from me, and I make a list of more important things. I put that list on my wall or on my laptop as a reminder that my time will be better spent elsewhere. I have to accept things as they are, or the headaches will come back.
4. Focus On Yourself
Part of my journey was realizing how emotionally dependent I had become on the reactions of my loved ones. If they didn’t act the way I wanted them to, it impacted me pretty deeply. I got so caught up in other people, in other things, in the outside world that I lost sight of myself. On who I am, on what my goals are. One what I can control.
You cannot free yourself from emotional dependency if you do not learn to love yourself and focus on yourself. If you find yourself constantly disappointed by people, it might be time to turn your attention inward. Spend time with yourself, with your own goals, your own hobbies, your own dreams.
Make space for loved ones when time permits, but the feelings of frustration and anxiety you experience may be signs that you need to focus more on learning about yourself. Learning about why you react to things the way you do, learn about why certain things trigger you when others don’t.
Self-exploration is the key to acceptance, because when you know yourself and what makes you tick, it is easier to understand other people.
It will prevent you from internalizing the actions of others and help you see that everyone else is learning to live in this world, just like you. And that their actions are a reflection of them, and where they are in their journey and has actually quite little to do with you.
I cannot think of a more succinct way to discuss the practice of acceptance than that laid out by Gaur Gopal Das, who provides a very simple algorithm for living a worry-free life. The video where he discusses the diagram below can be found here.
Essentially — if you can do something about a problem, then you have nothing to worry about. If you can’t do something about a problem…then what good comes from worrying about it? This is where true acceptance can take you.
Happiness isn’t a constant — it’s an ever-evolving state, mirroring the constant work that goes into the practice of acceptance. But once you put in the work, you’ll find that the scale tends to tip more in your favor than not, because you’ll have fewer (and more realistic) expectations of both the people in your life and situations you come across.