Life has gone and done it again. It has gone against your meticulously thought-out plans for how your life should unfold and has thrown you a curveball. You seethe and sulk. And yet, there’s that little voice at the back of your head that knows this battle is futile. After all, the future is under no obligation to comply with what you want.
So if you cannot bend life to your will, you must instead learn to accept what it throws your way. This is something I’ve had my share of struggles with and spent considerable time and energy researching. I’m happy I now have the chance to share what I’ve learned with others and hope you find the same level of comfort from the tips and thoughts below.
If you’d like to find more peace in your life by accepting what life throws at you, keep on reading.
Why do we resist accepting what life throws at us?
Let’s start by examining the issue at its roots. Why is it so hard to accept what life throws at us?
Research shows the need for control is rooted in survival. When we can control our environment, we can make more things that are good for us happen in our lives, and keep the ones that are bad for us out. This includes avoiding danger, keeping a stable source of food, and having a safe shelter. Therefore, having a greater sense of control helps ensure survival.
In fact, another study found that just having the feeling of control is linked with lower death rates, regardless of any actual danger in the environment. We’ve even done our own study and found that people are happier when they feel in control of their happiness.
As this is part of our instincts, you’ll never fully be able to let go of the desire to control things. And in some cases, you shouldn’t. Having reasonable control over the foundational things in your life will indeed help you lead a healthier, happier life.
The problem starts when we want to control things that we can’t. This brings frustration, anxiety, and unhappiness into our lives.
The problem with trying to control things
How does the need for control cause us harm?
Feeling a high need for control makes you feel much more unhappy when things don’t go according to plan.
You’ll also be more prone to looking at the negative side of things and criticizing them. After all, when you can’t bring about the outcomes you want, it makes sense you’ll be unhappy with them.
And, you’ll be much more sensitive to negativity from others, and be affected by it much more.
To sum up, when you try to control things beyond your control, you’re setting yourself up for anxiety, disappointment, and anger.
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Why you should learn to accept what life throws at you
I was pretty invested in the idea of letting go when I started researching this topic.
And yet, there were still moments when my mind rebelled. “This matters too much, I can’t just accept whatever happens!”
What ultimately helped me was an insightful passage in Oliver Burkeman’s book, Four Thousand Weeks. It’s a fantastic book about how to live the limited time we have, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn to accept what life throws at you. I’ll share several more insights from it below.
Burkeman points out that trying to control the future is like creating a neverending treadmill of anxiety. Because you can only be sure that things will work out the way you want them to once they’ve already happened. And at that point, you have the next piece of future to worry about.
Even if you arrive at the airport on time, how can you be sure the plane will leave according to schedule? That you’ll catch your connecting flight? And so on.
When you try to control the future, you can never breathe a sigh of relief.
Burkeman points out that it’s good to take action to try to influence the future to the way you want it to happen. For example, you can:
- Eat and exercise well to stay healthy.
- Treat your partner kindly to encourage them to stay with you.
- Take good care of your house and car to prevent unexpected problems and expenses.
But you must accept that you don’t have sole control — life has its fingers deep in anything that happens. When you learn to embrace what life throws at you, you can truly enjoy the positive moments and deal much better with the negative ones.
6 ways to accept what life throws at you
There are few things we can control in life. But one thing we can — and should — strive to keep in check is our very need to control things. In doing so, you open up your life for greater inner peace and appreciation of interesting experiences.
Here are 6 tips and ways of thinking to help you do that.
1. Know what you can control — and take control of that
While we are talking about accepting what life throws at you, it’s good to distinguish things that you do want to maintain control of. Namely, yourself — the only thing that’s truly under your control, in fact.
It’s much easier to cope with unexpected things, using the tips below, when you do have some control over what matters. If your life feels completely off balance, you’ll have a hard time appreciating uncertainty.
So focus on getting important areas in your life in order:
- Close relationships.
- Financial security.
- Your mindset.
Once you have these bases covered, you may realize that many things out of your hands are insignificant in comparison. And, you’ll be in a much better position to take whatever life throws at you in your stride.
2. Understand you don’t always know what makes you happy
You probably want to control how things turn out because you have a certain vision for what will make you happy.
But researchers found that often, what we think makes us happy is the total opposite of what actually does.
Random circumstances in your life can bring about amazing experiences you never could have planned for — or even thought of.
In his book Four Thousand Weeks, Oliver Burkeman adeptly points out:
“We go through our days fretting because we can’t control what the future holds; and yet most of us would probably concede that we got to wherever we are in our lives without exerting much control over it at all. Whatever you value most about your life can always be traced back to some jumble of chance occurrences you couldn’t possibly have planned for, and that you certainly can’t alter retrospectively now.”
He continues: “You might never have been invited to the party where you met your future spouse. Your parents might never have moved to the neighborhood near the school with the inspiring teacher who perceived your undeveloped talents and helped you shine. And so on.”
3. Appreciate negative experiences for the fact of being an experience
Negative experiences are never pleasant to go through — duh! That’s why we call them negative.
But sometimes, we get so caught up in tiny frustrations that we forget what life is all about.
If the purpose of life was for everything to be perfect, mistakes wouldn’t exist. Life would just unfold as one wholesomely perfect moment after another, with not even a single blip tarnishing it.
But clearly, life is not like that. The true meaning of life is to experience things. It’s a sequence of dealing with one problem after another — and the beauty of life lies in finding solutions to each one.
A much more drastic way of putting this is that many bad experiences are still infinitely better than no experience — and therefore we should cherish them. As Oliver Burkeman explains in his excellent book:
“When you turn your attention to the fact that you’re in a position to have an irritating experience in the first place, matters are likely to look very different indeed. All at once, it can seem amazing to be there at all, having an experience, in any way that’s overwhelmingly more important than the fact that the experience happens to be an annoying one.”
4. Think of negative events as backdrops for positive ones
As much as we can try to appreciate negative experiences, obviously, it’s still natural and healthy to aim for a life filled with positive ones.
But imagine if that’s all your life was made of. Would we still even be able to call those experiences “positive”?
Philosophy aside, we all know how much more we appreciate a glass of cool water during a very hot day, or curling up in bed after a long, cold walk. Negative events provide a necessary contrasting backdrop to positive ones. This is what lets us get real joy out of them.
So when you have a bad day, take comfort in the fact that it will help you enjoy a positive one on the horizon.
5. Look for the lesson in the experience
I love learning, and I usually consider it a very positive experience. But if I’m being honest, the best lessons I’ve learned have come from events that felt pretty negative at the time.
Truthfully, if I had not looked for a lesson in them, I would still consider these experiences very negative. And I would still probably be resisting the idea that they even happened, even though there’s nothing I can do to change the past.
Looking for the lessons in things that don’t go according to plan helps you forgive and let go of the past. This kind of mindset also gives you the peace to accept what life throws at you. If it’s something positive, you can enjoy it, and if it’s negative, you can learn from it — which is arguably an even greater fulfillment of the purpose of life.
6. Trust that you’ll be able to tackle whatever comes along
If you struggle a lot to accept what life throws at you, you should consider why. What’s hiding behind this need for control?
There’s a good chance that it’s some kind of fear. By trying to control everything, you’re attempting to make sure it doesn’t come true.
So first, ask yourself: What outcomes are you clinging to, and why? What are you afraid will happen?
Next, consider what would happen if this does happen. What is the terrible catastrophe you’re trying to avoid? In many cases, when you walk yourself through the scenario, you may realize it’s really not so terrible after all.
Once again, Oliver Burkeman has some very wise words to share:
“Despite our total lack of control over any of these occurrences, each of us made it through to this point in our lives — so it might at least be worth entertaining the possibility that when the uncontrollable future arrives, we’ll have what it takes to weather that as well. And you shouldn’t even necessarily want control, given how much of what you value in life only ever came to pass thanks to circumstances you never chose.”
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Now you have 6 tips and ways of thinking to help you accept what life throws at you. I personally found a lot of solace in these ideas when I was going through the peak of my struggles with trying to be in control.
Do you have any more tips for accepting what life throws at you? I’d love to hear them, as I’m sure would our other readers! Help me help others like you, and share them in the comments below.