Thursday, July 23, 2009

Accept What Is — Don’t Judge as Good or Bad

Be at peace with how things are.

“There is nothing either good or bad,
but thinking makes it so.”
- William Shakespeare, “Hamlet”

Post written by Leo Babauta.

One of the greatest sources of unhappiness, in my experience, is the difficulty we have in accepting things as they are.

Without judgment, without wishing for otherwise.

When we see something we don’t like, we wish it could be different — we cry out for something better. That may be human nature, or perhaps it’s something that’s ingrained in our culture.

The root of the unhappiness isn’t necessarily that we want things to be different, however: it’s that we decided we didn’t like it in the first place. We’ve judged it as bad, rather than saying, “It’s not bad or good, it just is.”

An example: In my recent post, A Beautiful Method to Find Peace of Mind, quite a few commenters thought my outlook was negative, pessimistic, or fatalistic … because I said you should expect people to mess up, expect things to go differently than you planned, and that you should embrace that.

It’s too negative to expect things to go wrong, they said. However: it’s only negative if you see it as negative. If you judge it as bad.

Instead, you could accept it as the way the world works — as the way things actually are. And try to understand why that is, and embrace it. As it is.

This can be applied to whatever you do: whether it be how other people act at work, how politics works and how depressing the news media can be. Accept these things as they are, and try to understand why they’re that way.

It’ll save you a lot of grief, because you’ll no longer say, “Oh, I wish things didn’t suck!”

Does it mean you can never change things? Not at all. But change things not because you can’t accept things as they are, but because you enjoy the process of change, of learning and growing.

Can we make this world a better place? Again, that’s assuming that it’s a bad place right now. But instead, you could say the world is just what it is — and that’s neither good nor bad. You can say that you’ll continue to try to do things to help others, to grow as a person, to make a difference in this world — not because you’re such a bad person now, or the world sucks, but because that’s the path you choose to take, because you enjoy that path.

As you catch yourself judging, and wishing for different — and we all do it — try a different approach: accept, and understand. It might lead to some interesting results.

“Be Content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” - Lao Tzu

Leo July232009 at 8:49 pm

It seems a few people have difficulty accepting the idea of complete acceptance, for the very understandable reason that it seems like we’d be accepting major problems (poverty, hunger, abuse, etc) as they are without taking the responsibility to change them.

And I hear you. It’s difficult to accept these things as being the way the world is, not as bad things. Our mindset is, from childhood, that these are extremely bad things. I personally have difficulty accepting them, without judgment, so it may be too much for me to ask others to do the same when I haven’t mastered this skill.

However … a couple of points to make:

1. These problems will exist whether you accept them or not. You can try to change them, and you may have some effect, but they will still exist. That’s a fact. But you can choose how you view them, and how you respond to them. You can judge them as bad, and get upset about them, or depressed about them, and live an unhappy life. Or you can accept them as simply the way things are, and not be unhappy. It’s a difficult choice, but it’s a choice nonetheless.

2. Accepting things as they are, without judgment, doesn’t mean you can’t act to change them. You can work with the sick, help eradicate poverty once and for all, volunteer to work with the abused or homeless or other such causes. You can do this even if you don’t judge these situations as “bad”, because each of us must choose a path. That path can be to create something beautiful, or alleviate the suffering of those in pain, or help those in need of help … or any of an infinite number of paths. You can choose to help others in need, others who are suffering, to change their situation … because that’s the path you want to take. Even if you accept things as they are without judging as bad.

In the end, you can help those in need and work to end suffering whether you accept things or not. But the acceptance can be the factor that determines whether you’re happy or not.

Leo July232009 at 8:52 pm

The other misunderstanding that I’ve seen here in the comments is that my suggested approach is too optimistic (an interesting change from me being too pessimistic!) and that the world is not all roses, that not everything is good.

Let me clarify: I suggested that we accept things as they are, and not judge as good or bad. Saying things are all good is a judgment.

Accept as they are. Sure, see good things in everything (they are there) and find joy in that, but don’t say “this is good” and “this is bad” … just say “this is how things are” and be happy with that.

Respond to things, sure … after seeing things as they are, accepting that, trying to understand that. Once you’ve done those things, respond appropriately.

Leo Babauta - Zen Habits