top of page

Embrace the power of acceptance

Updated: Apr 21, 2022

There is a movement in positive psychology toward what’s called “radical acceptance”. That means focusing on gratitude, and resonating with the positive. And with good reason: it works! People are improving their quality of life because of these techniques.

Beginning with acceptance, is probably is not what you might expect to hear. However, entire therapies have been developed with acceptance as the focus.

An example of this is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). ACT helps train mindfulness: an awareness of the present moment without judgment. The individual is then better able to tolerate negative thoughts and feelings.

Acceptance has been a key to happiness since Buddhism was born. The Second Noble Truth of Buddhism (of The Four Noble Truths) is that “desire (or craving) is the root of all suffering”. This is interpreted as wanting reality to be anything but what it is, in other words, a lack of acceptance.

Often when teaching I discuss acceptance with my learners, a common argument emerged: “How can I possible accept bad things”. “It is passive and accepting things as they are is giving up”. “It is resignation to something unpalatable”.


But that is not the real meaning of acceptance. “Acceptance doesn’t mean passive resignation. Quite the opposite. It takes a huge amount of strength and motivation to accept what is- especially when you don’t like it-and then work wisely and effectively as best you possibly can with the circumstances you find yourself in and with the resources at your disposal, both inner and outer, to heal, redirect, and change what can be changed.”

In other words, desiring the world to be something it is not and ruminating thoughts about how things “should be” are put aside. Then change what can be a way forward in opening the door to acceptance.

Acceptance helps reduce what people experience as a negative. That is only half of the solution to improving one’s quality of life, however. It has been suggested that it takes five positive experiences to counter one negative or, more generally, your brain responds to positive events.

So, the new goal is to allow the positive to resonate, to be prolonged, not in a desperate grasping fashion, but instead through mindfulness and allowing it to permeate one’s attention. This helps counter the balance, and swing experience to the positive.


People often do not notice how much positivity there is in their lives. As such, a movement in the psychology of happiness is to look for what one is grateful for. In “The Mindful Way Through Depression” a suggestion is made to note things you enjoy while going through your day.

In an excellent TED Talk, “Want to be happy? Be grateful”, David Steindl-Rast – a renowned expert on the subject of gratitude – suggests we simply need to stop, look, and then go to see all of what we have been missing that we have to be grateful for. This all relates to slowing down and resonating with enjoyable moments, rather than running from one thing to the next.

Some people find change hard to accept and slip into a spiral of negativity. It is at these times

therapy can focus on defence mechanisms and how change is strenuous work and often staying the same is easier (even if painful).


David Steindl-Rast suggests that we simply do not slow down enough to appreciate. We are running from our problems and running from ourselves.

That is not working. Slowing down, being mindful, and experiencing and expressing appreciation will work. By doing it and focusing on it, neuroscience demonstrates new neural connections are made and strengthened. This makes it more likely to occur in the future.

· Think about what you appreciate, write them down if necessary.

· Slow your life down and appreciate all that you have. Even in the worst scenarios there can be appreciation. For instance, having a long bath, shower, the sun setting or rising, the taste of your favourite food, reaching out to people and conversing with others. There are many ways you could feel a little bit more appreciative.

As neuropsychologists are fond of saying, “Neurons that fire together, wire together”. Over time, you will find yourself happier, calmer, and experiencing more joy. And that is science!


Hanson, R; 2009; Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom; New Harbinger Publications;

Steindl-Rast, D; 2013; TED Talk: Want to be happy? Be grateful; Retrieved from:

51 views0 comments


bottom of page