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Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Learning the Art of Acceptance and How It Will Make You Happier


I can scarcely believe that only a week has gone by since I celebrated my 23rd birthday, and yet here I find myself, a Tuesday later, in a completely different country and what feels like a completely different world. I'm back in Abu Dhabi, returning for my final year of university in this quirky desert campus in which I reside**.

To say I wasn't looking forward to coming back implies a negativity that isn't a fair representative of my feelings; it was a generally ambivalence, combining the excitement of seeing friends, in some cases for the first time in years, with the terror of the intense pressure that the last year will undoubtedly bring. Thus, when I Skyped my darling mumma last night to update on her my first few days, it was rather thrilling to be able to tell her how well things had gone thus far.

One of the lovely little presents that she gifted me last week was a book entitled Everyday Happiness, daily prompts, quotes and anecdotes to, presumably, inspire happiness in me. After closing down that familiar blue box I picked it up and flicked it today's date, interested to see what I could glean from the shiny pages.

"Learn the art of acceptance", it told me. 

"Never waste time wondering about what might have been. Get busy thinking about what still might be, and trusting that however it plays out, it will leave you glad that what might have been, never came to be."

Do you ever have those moments where you hear words that are just perfect for the moment you find yourself in? This little quote floored me, because it encouraged and guided a process that I had kind of already been living by from the moment the plane touched back down on the baking hot tarmac.

Life in Abu Dhabi this time is not as I've known it before. My best friend and sometime bed sharer now lives alone since she's totally killing it as an RA (basically in charge of all the wonderful women living in another part of campus), and my other best friend is virtually living with her boyfriend, a move I wholeheartedly support but which means I see her a whole lot less than before. There is a very sweet stranger living in the end room, also with a boyfriend, and thus I find myself in a room that feels a whole lot less like home than it has in years gone by (albeit thankfully I have another roommate who I adore). But I'm actually kind of okay with this set up, precisely because I accepted it for what it was.

Now don't get me wrong, a dangerous part of my brain longs for days gone by when the communal areas were lovingly decorated and when I called out upon entering, I was more likely than not to get a response. But those days are gone, and pining after them will just make me feel worse about the current set up. 

Instead I decided to take action. I made sure to decorate my room to within an inch of its life - it took me two days and it's heavenly - so that my space still felt like home. However I've realised that I need to change the expectations of being the social space that I was so used to. Being with friends was easy, because they were always on my doorstep but now it just requires a bit more effort. Over the past few days I have had numerous lunches, dinners and chats with friends; some prearranged, some not. Underpinning this reframing of the situation is a basic acceptance: a forced focus on how to make the best of the new life.

Acceptance is not a passive process. For some it may be easy, the situation is already acceptable and thus no mental work is required, but often it requires a whole lot more effort. It's an effort worth making though, for it really does sit at a crucial step on the path towards happiness. Think about it this way: longing for something else, particularly something unachievable or outside of your control, is bound to eat away at your happiness levels for it instantly implies that your current circumstance is somehow lower or less desirable. Even if this is objectively true, awareness of that fact will do nothing to improve your sense of wellbeing. Instead the simple acceptance of the life you find yourself in initiates a contentment that will only serve to benefit you.

Now I am by no means telling you to settle where changes can be made. We must, of course, work towards living a life we want to lead. But in this messy life there are so many things that we cannot change, and that's where acceptance is your new best friend.

I am a firm believer that some things in life happen for a reason. Not everything, I would not dare to be arrogant and say that there is meaning in the cruelest of experiences, but in the smaller challenges there usually winds up being a positive outcome that was unforeseeable. I am trying to trust this process, and I hope you'll join me along the way. 


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**The sporadic nature of posting lately can be wholeheartedly blamed on the difficulties that arriving home for three weeks presents, with unpacking, seeing friends and family, having a birthday and then packing up for five months, followed by jetlag, unpacking two suitcases and two boxes, collecting books, saying hello to everyone, and generally looking after oneself. Sorry guys, international life just took over!


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