The key to living a happier life
“Love is blind; friendship closes its eyes.” — Friedrich Nietzsche
A mouse was in constant distress because of its fear of a cat. A magician took pity on it and turned it into a cat. But then it became afraid of the dog. So, the magician turned it into a dog. Then it began to fear the panther. Thus, the magician turned it into a panther. Finally, it became full of fear for the hunter.
The magician got frustrated and gave up. He said, “You have the heart of a mouse; nothing I do for you is going to help you.”
And he turned it into a mouse again.
The enemy lies within, not outside.
That’s why we run away from who we are. We want to escape — to become someone else. But, changing our identity won’t make us happier. Running away from our fears is pointless.
As Waylon Lewis said, “We don’t want to make ourselves better. We want to make friends with who we are right now.”
Self-acceptance is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Faraway, so close
When bad things happen, we often blame ourselves. It’s easy to become our own victim — self-hatred quickly takes over.
Playing the blame game is exhausting — no matter how good you are, it never feels enough. You’ll always face hard, painful, and challenging times. Your happiness is closer than you think. Take yourself just the way you are.
Accepting yourself unconditionally doesn’t mean being self-deceiving or a conformist. It’s about being honest, but also kind. It’s okay to question or challenge yourself and try to become the best person you can be. But, first, start by accepting who you are right now.
The enemy lies within — self-compassion is having a realistic approach to who you are. It’s about not letting anxiety and fear make you run away. Or not feeling the need to create an idealized version of who you are either. Don’t create a distance between your image and your reality.
“Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” — Anonymous
Being your own best friend is the best thing you can do for yourself.
The voice of the anti-self
We all want to be unique. But, we can’t tolerate being different.
Research by psychologists Dr. Lisa and Robert Firestone found that the most common self-critical thought is “You are different from other people.”
We tend to see ourselves as different but not in a positive or special way — we believe we are not worthy of someone else’s acceptance. Even many those who seem successful and well-liked, deep inside, feel like a fraud.
There’s a division between our self and our critical inner voice.
According to Dr. Robert Firestone, we all have two sides. The ‘real self’ is a part of us that is self-accepting, goal-directed and embraces our potential. The ‘anti-self,’ on the other hand, represents self-hatred, self-denying and negative emotions — it’s expressed in our ‘critical inner voice.’
The nagging voices or thoughts create confusion. Just like the mouse in the parable above, we can’t accept who we are. And want to become someone else. But it never feels enough. When we can’t appreciate ourselves, everyone else feels like an enemy.
Our critical inner voice is like an irritating coach that’s always reminding us of what we do wrong. We get stuck in rehashing bad experiences and mistakes — rumination turns us into our worst enemy.
Unfortunately, we are so used to this inner voice, that we don’t realize it. Instead of recognizing the internal enemy, we surrender to its power without noticing it.
Control less, trust more as I wrote here.
Our inner voice is familiar, but it wasn’t always there. It was developed in our early childhood — we turned the voice of our parents and teachers into our own worst critic. By perceiving ourselves through a negative filter, we seeded doubt and fear.
Instead of celebrating our uniqueness, we feel bad for being different from other people. We struggle to accept other’s acknowledgment or love — we don’t believe to be worth it.
So, how can we turn our inner voice into a friendly one?
Befriending the invisible monster
Self-hatred is a reaction more than a choice.
In his novel Invisible Monsters, Chuck Palahniuk wrote, “When we don’t know who to hate, we hate ourselves.”
The inner voice makes us feel threatened, regardless if we are a mouse, a dog or a panther. There’s no such thing as a perfect personality that will make you feel safe and protected always. That’s why the more we try to change ourselves, the less happy we become.
Just like positive feedback can increase self-esteem and confidence, criticism can create the oppositive effect. The point is not to blame your parents, but to realize that your inner voice is not yours — you adopted it. And you can also give it back.
Most of us don’t realize how our upbringing affected our views about ourselves. This is what “The Monster Study” demonstrated.
Applying unethical methods — thus its name — this experiment determined the effects of positive or negative speech on children.
University of Indiana’s Wendell Johnson selected twenty-two orphan children — some with stutters and some without. He practiced positive speech therapy with the stutterers, praising them for their fluency; and negative speech therapy with non-stutterers,
He engaged the stutterers in positive speech therapy, praising them for their fluency, and the non-stutterers in negative speech therapy, disparaging them for their mistakes. As a result, many of the children who received negative speech therapy suffered psychological effects and retained speech problems for the rest of their lives.
This horrific experiment made a point in the worst way possible. However, its name is also a reminder of something else — our fears are seeded by others and live within us, not outside.
What are you gaining by being your own enemy?
Start recognizing the friend within you — be kind, patient, and understanding.
Clinical psychologist Linda Blair said, “We’re very kind to our friends but not to ourselves, and there’s no reason for that. Advise yourself as if you were your best friend.”
If you are telling yourself that you are a failure because something went wrong, imagine what you’d say to a friend in a similar situation. You’d probably comfort and encourage them to get back on their feet, not attack them — treat yourself with the same kindness.
Happiness is an accepting friend
We all want to be happy. However, sometimes we confuse being happy with having things. But, happiness is about accepting who we are and what we are — it doesn’t depend on our possessions.
As W. P. Kinsella said, “Success is getting what you want, happiness is wanting what you get.”
Happiness starts within ourselves — the first thing that we must appreciate is who we are. Unfortunately, of all the habits that correspond most closely with us being satisfied — self-acceptance is the most important, yet the one we practice the least.
Research by Action for Happiness found out that, though accepting oneself is the most significant factor for being satisfied, few of us actually practice it. The study asked people to rate themselves between 1 and 10 on the top ten habits, identified by the latest scientific research, as key to feeling happy.
When answering the Acceptance question, How often are you kind to yourself and think you’re fine as you are? people’s average rating was just 5.56 out of 10.
Dr. Mark Williamson, Director of Action for Happiness, said: “Our society puts huge pressure on us to be successful and to constantly compare ourselves with others. This causes a great deal of unhappiness and anxiety. If we can learn to be more accepting of ourselves as we really are, we’re likely to be much happier.”
The results also confirmed that our day-to-day habits have a much bigger impact on our happiness than we might imagine. The experts recommend three positive actions that we can take to increase self-acceptance:
- Be as kind to yourself as you are to others. See your mistakes as opportunities to learn. Acknowledge the things you do well, however small.
- Get feedback from your friends or colleagues. Tell them to list your key strengths, contributions, and what they most value of you.
- Spend some quiet time by yourself. Practice mindfulness to be more focused and present. Pause and reflect on how you are feeling inside — are you treating yourself how you would treat your best friend?
Self-acceptance is the key to a happier life, yet it’s the happy habit many people practice the least.
It’s strongly correlated with both mindfulness and subjective well-being — multiple studies suggest it’s a critical factor. Accepting oneself is essential to deal with depression, eating disorders, and stress.
Not only does self-acceptance shape our mood and emotions — it has an impact on our brain too.
Poor self-acceptance drives low self-esteem and is associated with structural changes in our brain; it can reduce grey matter in areas involved with emotion and stress regulation. Accepting yourself is the first step to effectively manage your emotions, as I wrote here.
Additional studies have shown that self-acceptance turns you into a good friend — it allows you to forgive yourself, forgive others, and have a high tolerance of frustration and discomfort.
When feeling down, stuck or lost, ask yourself, “How would you support a friend in a similar situation?” Treat yourself as you would help a friend.
Self-acceptance is the key to a happier life, yet it’s the happy habit we practice the least. Cultivate self-awareness. Laugh at yourself — don’t everything too seriously. Accept who you are — flaws included. Be kind instead of punishing yourself.
Stop being obsessed with personal development. Focus on being your own best friend instead.