Does Acceptance Mean Settling, Giving Up, Rolling Over?

It’s amazing how often folks misinterpret the word acceptance. They may think it means ‘settling’, ‘giving up’, ‘rolling over’, ‘putting up with it’, ‘setting the bar low’, ‘giving up my dreams’, or ‘this is my lot in life so suck it up get on with it’.

Of course, like any word, there are different possible interpretations, but as we use the term in The Happiness Trap program, ‘acceptance’ definitely does NOT mean any of those things. The Happiness Trap program is based on a model known as ACT, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and it strongly encourages an attitude that is the complete opposite of settling or giving up and rolling over.

The C in ACT is for commitment. ACT encourages you to commit to action to do the things that make life rich full and meaningful. if your life sucks and there’s something you can do about it, TAKE ACTION. Don’t just ‘settle’ or ‘put up with it’; actively change your behaviour. Do things that are likely to improve the situation. Do stuff that improves your quality of life. Look after your health. Build healthy relationships. Develop or change your career. Change what you do, in little ways and in big ways, to make your life as good as it can be: spend your time doing meaningful activities. Set life-enhancing goals and actively pursue them.

‘Acceptance’ as we use the term in ACT and The Happiness Trap, means ‘opening up and making room for difficult thoughts and feelings, and allowing them to flow freely through you in their own good time, neither struggling with them nor getting swept away by them.’ I often use the word ‘expansion’ rather than ‘acceptance’, to prevent such confusion. It’s about expanding: opening up and making room inside you for the inevitable painful feelings that life dishes out to all of us.

If you’re in a bad relationship, bad job, bad neighbourhood, bad country, bad situation of any sort – and if it’s realistic to leave, and it seems likely that leaving will make your life better … then it makes sense to leave. Acceptance doesn’t mean you passively stay and put up with it if and when leaving is possible and likely to make life better; acceptance means opening up and making room for the difficult thoughts and feelings that are guaranteed to show up whether you choose to stay or whether you choose to leave.

So if life is dull, empty, lacking, unfulfilling, or full of problems and stress, then ACT teaches you a) how to open up and make room for the difficult thoughts and feelings that are showing up (acceptance) and b) at the same time, take action to improve your life; do things, guided by your values, to solve your problems and make life better. It’s this double-handed approach that helps us to effectively build a rich and full life.

Russ Harris

29 Oct 2018

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