Being happy is a very interesting topic which affects us all in some form or another, and while happiness is extremely difficult to measure, in my professional and personal experience, happiness often comes from a place of self-acceptance. In this article, I am going to explain why I think that self-acceptance might be the key to happiness and how you can learn to become more self-accepting, which in turn I believe will have a positive effect on your overall happiness.
What is happiness?
Firstly, I think it is may be really useful to provide a definition of what happiness means so that we have a basic understanding to work from. However, the very subjective nature of happiness, and it being a felt experience, means that finding a definitive statement for being happy is not really possible. However, what this does offers is a great opportunity to reflect on the following questions:
“What does being happy mean to me?”
“How do I know when I am happy?”
“What does it feel like to be happy?”
“What is different about me when I am happy?”
By exploring these questions you may find a statement that provides you with an understanding of what happiness is to you. For me, through what I have read, studied and personally experienced, I believe that I can break what happiness means to me down into the following sentence:
"Happiness is a felt sense; it is the experiencing of positive emotions such as contentment, pride, joy, love and compassion in the here and now, but also, an awareness of satisfaction in my life, an appreciation of myself, and an acceptance of the goals I wish to achieve coupled with understanding that there could be pitfalls in my progression towards them."
Humanism and Happiness
Before I can answer why I think self-acceptance plays a pinnacle role in a person's happiness, I first have to give you a background of my counselling practice as I feel it will bring to light my reasons for seeing self-acceptance as important to being happy and also, where you may be able to find more resources should you wish to explore this topic further.
Coming into the counselling profession from a Humanistic background where theoretical approaches such as Person-Centred, Gestalt and Existential Therapy hold their roots; a great deal of my teaching has been around human development and growth. One key aspect of this modality is the acknowledgement of humans innate desire to progress in life and to reach a level of fulfillment and purpose. The term that best describes this is reaching a state of self-actualisation, a term most recognised by the work of Abraham Maslow's and his Hierarchy of Needs.
I feel it is important to mention the hierarchy, as it indicates a way of understanding where one is in their development process and what might be needed to help you on your journey.
The following is a brief breakdown of the Hierarchy:
Self-actualisation should not be considered as having been achieved only once to then always feel fulfilled, but rather, as a stage that is ever moving as you progress through life and new situations arise; for example, I may been feeling content all day until I get home, see the post and have received a bill which I can’t afford! Furthermore, although the Hierarchy shows the progressional stages to reaching self-actualisation, it should be noted that you can go up and down the Hierarchy of needs if they are no longer being met, and you can also be working on multiple stages at once, for example, whilst getting a promotion in your job you may both gain more financial security (safety needs) and feeling more connected to the company (belonging needs).
At which stage is happiness important to development?
When you look at the Hierarchy of Needs in relation to happiness a clear stage may start becoming apparent. Psychological needs is where I believe we are most likely to become aware of our lack of happiness, the impact on our progression and/or the feeling of stuckness. To me, this is because we are now at a stage where our basic needs are being met (where being happy isn’t the aim at this stage), but other forms of discomfort may be appearing due to new situations arising such as seeking close relationships, job opportunities and learning new skills. In my work as a counsellor, I often hear people say things that would indicate a feeling of unhappiness and not getting their belonging and esteem needs met.
Below I have put a short list of quotes that clients have said and, after further exploration, we were able gain an understanding of what they actually meant to them:
Each one of these quotes can be seen as someone who is not getting their esteem and belonging needs met and therefore may struggle to reach a state of self-actualisation and fulfilment. In this stage we are putting added pressure on the development of our self-esteem, as our perception of how we should be living our lives is challenged by an awareness of how we wish to be living it. It could be considered that these quotes, which I'm sure many of us can relate to, could indicate an unconscious insight into our real self and ideal self perspective, that is, who we really are and who we want to be.
Self-esteem relates to the way that we feel about ourselves, which is is why I strongly believe that self-acceptance plays an important role for people to develop positive self-esteem, reach a state self-actualisation and feelings related to happiness.
Society and our comparative nature
Something we have yet to touch on is the impact our society has on our views and ideals of being happy. As I mentioned in my article 5 tips to managing depression, we live in a society where we are expected to keep moving forward. Yes, this does have its advantages. However, it also encourages the increase in individuals comparing themselves to one another, which in the pursuit of happiness, will ultimately have a negative effect.
Although comparing ourselves to others is influenced greatly by societal values, it is also a very individual perception and based on what we feel is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ influenced by factors like our upbringing and learnt experiences, and is very likely to generate feelings of being less than others. Of course, there will be people who you feel you are achieving more than, but by our very nature of pursuing self-actualisation, we will always find room for growth and development, which will be at the expense of your happiness; if it is through comparing yourself to other people whilst dismissing our own achievements.
And the truth is, I'm sure we are all culprits of comparing ourselves to others, feeling less than, and expecting more from ourselves. I’m sure if you look back at times when a friend or colleague had achieved something you have compared it to your situation, like a friend getting a new car or colleague getting a promotion. We will do it, but by learning to become more self-accepting the need to compare to other drifts further into the distance.
Self-acceptance and being Happy
Hopefully by now you have got a better picture of where my theoretical background stems from and why I feel Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs plays an important part in understanding development and happiness. I hope what it indicates to you is how, when in the psychological needs stage, we are most likely to be aware of our comparative nature and how it can have an negative impact on our overall happiness.
Hopefully, it has now become clear that comparing ourselves to others is going to impact our happiness. However, the bad news is that we are going to do it anyway. Why? because we are very social creatures that want to fit into our environment the best that we can and with the people who live in it. We can’t fully change our psycho-social nature it is part of our evolution. However, we do have an amazing organ at our disposal, our brain, that can be moulded and changed at any age (known as neuroplasticity), which can help to construct a different view of others, the world, and most importantly how we view ourselves.
So where does self-acceptance come into the picture?
Once we recognise that comparing ourselves to others might be holding us back, we can start considering how we stop doing it, begin to get our own needs met without the need to manipulate our environment, and take the time to truly learn what our own goals in life are, without the influence what we feel is expected of us.
Sometimes it can be difficult to really know what it is we want from life, this is when it can be useful to see a counsellor because the very essence of the work is about gaining a picture of the client’s world and broadening their self-awareness, which in turn allows for greater understanding of who they are, leading to them becoming more accepting of themselves. However, not everyone who feels stuck, unhappy, or feels that they are not achieving their full potential needs to see a counsellor. For some, it is about taking control of their own life and allowing themselves to be the most important person to them irrespective of all their faults.
Here is a fantastic quote from american psychologist and founder of the person-centred approach Dr Carl Rogers:
“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change”
To me, what he is referring to is the acknowledgment of who you are and your achievements in life, no matter how small they may seem in comparison to those of others.
When you are accepting of yourself you will begin to notice that you can let things that were once concerns go. You will begin to realise you are worth far more than the negativity you are holding on too about yourself in relation to others, but also, challenging the expectation your inner critic has of you and your abilities.
So how do I become more self-accepting?
It may have felt that this whole article has been leading up to some revolutionary idea of how to be happy through self-acceptance but the truth is that there isn’t one. Happiness is so individual that it would impossible to say that there was one way to be happy. What I hope you have got from from reading this article is that maybe letting go of the need to be pushing forward all the time or comparing yourself to others who you think are doing better than you, and learning to accept yourself just as you are, then maybe you will begin to see yourself and your achievements in a different light.
To offer some support as you change into becoming more self-accepting I have written 5 tips on becoming more self accepting:
1. Motivate yourself to change
First of all, I believe that one must acknowledge that self-criticising and loathing is not going to help you to accept yourself. You will need to come to the conclusion that life would be far better if and when I accept myself in all aspects of my life, the good, the bad and the ugly!
2. Appreciate your strengths
Write down what your strengths are and congratulate yourself for them. It is not always easy to do and we seem far better are noticing our flaws. However, starting to write a list will help to acknowledge what you are great at, which will help you to develop a compassionate view of yourself; and at times when you may not be feeling worthwhile, you will have your list for reassurance.
3. Accept some dreams will not be achieved in your life
We can get very hung up on lost potential in life. This further distances us from being able to accept ourselves. Take the time to look back at dreams you wanted to achieve, are they still a possibility, or is time to accept that sometimes we don’t get to achieve what we set out do and that's ok, I’m sure there are dreams you did achieve.
4. Be more self-compassionate
Self-compassion is so important in life, it has so much power when you are feeling at your worst. By learning to moderate your inner critic from noticing your flaws, learning to ground yourself and check in with you body through practicing breathing techniques, you will begin to understand your thoughts and emotions better, which will further support your ability to achieve happiness.
5. Realise self-acceptance isn’t at the dismissal of other’s
Self acceptance is not about dismissing everyone else and only looking after yourself. Being compassionate and caring towards other should be something you want to do also, the important things is that it is not at the expense of your happiness.
I hope you found this article and the 5 tips on self-acceptance useful to your development. Further reading around the subject will be needed, however, I wanted to offer you a brief understanding of my perspective on happiness and what can be done to be more self-accepting. I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts on this subject. Please leave any comment about your thoughts, feelings and experiences on the subject as it may provide further support to others.
(Image sourced from pixabay.com)
References & Bibliography
Other useful resources:
Anger is a perfectly natural emotion and one that comes and goes when a situation or thought stimulates the response in you, the same goes for any other emotions whether it be sadness, happiness, fear or discuss. Anger is an easy emotion to go too and was very handy when our brain was initially developing thousands of years ago when threats to our lives were frequent. However, times have changed, and what set anger apart from many other emotions and the reason why it’s is often viewed as one that should be better managed is its potentially destructive nature in today’s world and its ability to destroy relationships, work, future plans and many other aspects in your life, including your own self-development.
I’ve seen first hand the impact of anger and its power in limiting a person’s potential; every time they build something up, eventually it comes crashing down!
Now, what I am about to discuss isn’t about understanding where your tendency to move straight to anger comes from, which can be explored through counselling. I am writing to hopefully provide a few thought-provoking ideas to help you to control your anger better so that it no longer has control over you and your future plans.
The list below is techniques/skills/attributes I have learnt through theoretical study, seen clients use that helped them to manage their aggressive outbursts better, and also ones that I use myself when feelings of anger are starting to arise.
I have broken it into 2 sections: Reducing the chance of angry eruptions and Long-term coping strategies. I hope this helps to offer you in the moment support when your anger is bubbling up, plus, other ways to help with taking control of your anger.
Reducing the chance of angry eruptions
Here we will discuss ways to reduce the likelihood of anger turning into an outburst of aggression.
Notice signs you’re getting angry
I think that becoming aware of your anger is probably one of the most important points in helping to mitigate it before it erupts. You will have a physical reaction when you are becoming angry. Common signs include breathing faster, heart beating quicker, body feeling tense, clenched or fidgety. Noticing these signs will give you a chance put in steps to prevent you reacting aggressively. This can be hard to do when put in a challenging situation. However, the more you practice checking in with your body, the faster you will be able to notice the signs.
You may be thinking, I’m not 5 why would I want to do this. Nevertheless, counting up to 10 in your head will give you a great chance to analyse the situation, helps you notice your bodies reaction, slows your breathing, and helps you to react more appropriately to the situation. So counting shouldn’t be taken lightly when it comes to anger.
Do something to take your mind away from the situation
This may not always be appropriate but if you can it may be a good idea to distract yourself for a bit until you are in a better position to handle things. It will offer you a chance to reflect on the situation and help stop you from saying something you may regret later. Should you notice you are getting angry with your boss, partner or friend, it may be as simple as saying “I’m getting angry, so I’m going to walk away and will continue this discussion with you when I’ve calmed and can think clearly”. Going for a walk, colouring or doing an easy task can help offer you that space to calm down and reflect on your current circumstances.
Long-term coping strategies
We’ve looked at a few strategies to help reduce the chance of an angry eruption. Now, we need to look at long-term strategies that, if implemented into your life, can help change your anger completely.
When we talk about anger and aggression, appropriate communication is often not present. Communication is so important in improving mental well-being, which is why it is the first in my list of long-term coping strategies. I have broken communication into two groups:
Sharing how you feel. It is really important to express yourself with others and not bury it deep inside. If you can imagine a cup being slowly filled up, eventually, it reaches the top and overflows. When this happens, it can lead to feelings of shame, stress and behaving either aggressively or passive aggressively. Let people know how you feel, it will help to empty the cup.
Another thing to consider is that by sharing how you feel you may have a benefit in improving your circumstances with people, it doesn't mean they are going to change, but at least it opens the floor to a discussion that can be handled without aggression. Maybe your boss has said something you're not happy with, have a talk with them about the situation, how it makes you feel and see if it can be resolved. Don't allow yourself to sit with the negative feelings to have to deal with something similar the following day. It important to be proactive in mitigating anger, frustration and stress.
Talk to a professional. Naturally, as a therapist, I think speaking to a counsellor is a fantastic way to tackle anger. However, I also think it important to realise that talking in depth about anger can lead to you actually becoming angry. In my opinion, if you are looking to explore your anger in depth, it is safer to this in a professional setting where it can be explored and new skills can be developed, rather than offloading on friends and family who may not be equipped to handle it. Let your friends and family know how you feel but think about the depth that they need to be aware of.
It may be a great idea to find ways to relax your mind and body. A great choice is to look for a local holistic therapist who will look at helping to restore your natural balance through different techniques. Another great option can be looking for relaxation tools online such as breathing techniques and mindfulness; both mindfulness and learning breathing techniques takes practice and time. Nevertheless, it offers great benefit in helping you to calm the body and mind, becoming more aware of your body's reactions and reducing angry eruptions.
Change your thinking
When you begin to get angry you might have noticed that your thinking can be very direct and negative towards other - “Why are they acting like that”, “they never understand”, “It’s their fault” “they shouldn’t be doing that” and/or to yourself - “Why do i keep doing that”, “I don’t understand”, “It’s my fault” “i’m stupid”. However, there are often many ways the circumstances can be viewed, it’s very often not as black and grey as how we perceive things when angry. This sort of thinking can keep the anger around for a long time. Thinking like this is likely deep-rooted but it doesn't mean it can’t change with a bit of practice and little self-compassion.
Figure out whether it’s definitely anger you're experiencing
If we take into consideration that people who have been told they are angry or need anger management have shown signs that their behaviour is aggressive, we need to consider more than just anger as what they’re experiencing. People are often confused anger and aggression as the same thing and don't realise that anger is an emotion, whereas aggression is a behaviour. Sure, anger is often the reason why someone will become aggressive. However, you can also become aggressive in relation to other emotions including anxiety, sadness and fear. It’s really important to figure out if it's actually anger you’re experiencing, or whether it's a different emotion that you hadn’t even considered. By knowing the emotion that is triggering the aggressive response, you can - 1.) explore the actual cause of your behaviour and 2.) develop skills and internal resources related to the emotion to help reduce the behaviour. This can be done without professional support if you are very self-aware, emotional intelligent and emotionally resilient. However, seeing a counsellor or other professional is likely to be required.
(Image's sourced from pixabay.com)
Depression is extremely draining. It drains your motivation, energy and hope, making it extremely difficult to take steps to getting better. However, it’s not impossible to overcome, and it’s important to realise that you can take more control than maybe you realise. In my experience the key to improving depression is to start with small steps and build up. Your depression is not likely to drastically improve overnight; feeling better takes time.
Below, I have written a list of 5 useful tips to managing depression, which I believe can help in your recovery.
Tip 1: Accept your depression
This may come as a shock to you, and you might be thinking that this is the opposite of what you should be doing. However, becoming depressed is very natural for humans, whether it be your gentics, brain chemitry, hormones or enviroment. One thing i've noticed is how our western society doesn’t really allow for depression, and that we must be seen to “keep moving forward”. This is great for our survival as a species but this thinking style doesn’t help when you’re depressed, as it can often lead to a negative view of yourself (“I should be doing better”, “snap out of it”, “Get a grip” etc…), which keeps the depressive cycle fuelled. When trying to accept your depression, it might be useful to:
Tip 2: Set yourself goals
When depression strikes, we often begin to stop challenging ourselves to push forward. It’s feels far easier to stop and withdraw, which is ok as mentioned in tip 1. Nevertheless, it's important to begin to move away from depression and start changing your current outlook. Setting yourself goals such as doing the dishes, making the bed, getting up, driving to work or whatever it may be will help you to build it into a habit that has a positive effect on mood.
A bonus tip is to, once the goal is completed, acknowledge that it’s completed and congratulate yourself, even if it seems small like making the bed. The more you practice giving yourself positive affirmations, the easier and quicker it become ingrained into your way of being.
Tip 3: Take responsibility
Only you can truly improve your way of life. Speaking to a professional, such as a counsellor, can assist in your recovery and provide you with an environment where you gain more understanding of your depression, whilst learning how to manage the thoughts, feelings and behaviours associated with it far better. However, the motivation and willingness must come from you, you must be courageous and motivated in taking the steps to learn about yourself and your depression to overcome it.
Another important factor in taking responsibility is to make sure that you stay involved in thing you were doing prior to becoming depressed, this will help keep structure and routine in your life. That being said, it may be useful to reflect on when you became depressed, as it could be linked to something you have been doing, which you may need to stop.
Tips 4: Try something new
I just mentioned taking responsibility for thing you did before you became depressed, but maybe it’s time to take up something new to help manage your depression. A few things could include:
Tip 5: Look after your body
This can be difficult when depressed as eating is often the last thing on our minds. However, research shows the link between our physical and mental health and the benefit that looking after one has on the other. I think it's important to first take a look at your current eating habits. Keep an eye on what you’re eating as well as how often, there is a risk of both over-eating and under-eating whilst depressed.
Sleep is also a very important factor and one that depression can often impact. Sleep patterns when depressed are very subjective, for some people, being depressed makes them withdraw and stay in bed for hours, for others, no matter how hard they try and get to sleep they struggle. Sleep can be a very complicated subject when mental health and wellbeing is concerned and one I may write about in the future. That being said, I would suggest aiming for around 6 - 10 hours (adults) and 8 - 10 hours (teenagers).
These are my 5 useful tips on managing depression. I hope you find them useful and please feel free to share them with friends and family who may benefit from them. Also, you may find it helpful to read my thoughts on Understanding and Improving Anxiety.
Image's sourced from pixabay.com
The first thing to note it that anxiety is a normal part of life and will affect all of us in different ways at different times. The cause of your anxiety may not be fully clear, or, the reason for your anxiety may actually be very clear to you such as a traumatic experience, having many stresses in life or significant life events like divorce. Whatever the reason, hopefully after reading, you are more knowledgeable of the symptoms associated with anxiety as well as understand ways to reduce your anxiety and improve your mental wellbeing without the use of medication.
Common Symptoms of anxiety
Anxiety is brought on by worrying about the future, and the negative impact that things you are worry about may have on you. This presents in four common symptoms: a physical response, negative thoughts, negative emotions and negative behaviours.
The most common symptoms include:
Suffering with anxiety on a daily basis has a huge impact on your mind and body, leading to a negative cycle that can feel unbreakable.
So what can you do about your anxiety?
There is many things you can do to improve your anxiety. However, there are a few things to take into consideration:
Improve how you treat your body
It’s very well researched that improving the way you treat your body has an impact on your mental health. Here I have listed a few things you can do to better treat your body to help alleviate your anxiety.
Exercising has been shown to relieve tension and stress, boost your physical and mental energy, and releases endorphin's which enhance positive feeling and helps to reduce stress. Also, taking time out for yourself helps you to soothe the body.
Make sure you are getting enough sleep
I’m sure you’re aware of how important getting enough sleep is. However, you may not be aware that when your stressed and anxious your body needs more rest and so getting your 8 hours sleep becomes even more important.
Keep an eye on the amount of caffeine you’re consuming.
Caffeine is a stimulant, this is bad news if you’re anxious as it stimulates the brain, in particular the amygdala, which is responsible for our flight/flight response. The impact of this is an increase in your anxiety. If you’ve notice that after having a caffeine your anxiety is heightened, it might be a good idea to limit the amount you drink.
Improve your mind to reduce your anxiety
As mentioned earlier, to boost your mental wellbeing often takes more than just one approach. We’ve discussed some ways to improve how your treat your body. Now, to discussed how to change your mindset to reduce your anxiety.
Maintain a positive outlook
Our outlook on life influences everything we do. You may know someone who always see the worst in everything and struggles to see the positive. The impact of this is that it becomes a habit that is extremely hard to change. That being said, it can be changed it just takes time and practice. A great way to start is to take notice of when your view on the situation is negative and try to challenge it to explore whether there is a positive that can be seen.
Accept that everything can’t be controlled
This can be hard for some people; having control over something can feel really safe. However, it also leads to added stress and anxiety when the thing you’re trying to control cannot be. It’s important to put things into perspective and question whether whatever it is you are trying to control warrants your energy and time.
Be pleased with what you can do
People cannot do everything and its important to realise that neither can you. There will be things that you can do better than others, and things that they are better at than you. Accept this, and instead of aiming for perfection all the time be proud of however close you get.
Study your anxiety
If you’ve read this far then you are likely aware that anxiety affects everyone differently. Take the time to study and learn about YOUR anxiety; when it arises, what you are doing, how it makes you feel, think and behave. Tackle your anxiety head on and take control of it rather than letting it control you.
That's great, now what can I do at the moment to manage my anxiety?
Good question, here’s a few great tools to use when you notice you anxiety is beginning to arise.
Please leave your thoughts in the comments section. Likewise, visit my website www.georgefortunecounselling.co.uk to see other resources that might benefit you.
(Picture's source from pixabay.com)