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Cultivating Life Acceptance Helps Increase Life Satisfaction

» Mental Health Library » Treatment Approaches » Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy » Featured Article

By: Walter J. Matweychuk, Ph.D.

Walter J. Matweychuk, Ph.D.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy emphasizes three forms of acceptance: unconditional self-acceptance, unconditional other acceptance, and unconditional life acceptance. It is essential to recognize the importance of cultivating unconditional life acceptance. Unconditional life acceptance may be the form of acceptance least spoken of in REBT. Unconditional life acceptance is the antidote for self-pity, depression, anger, and anxiety in response to the threats to our safety and comfort, losses, failures, undeserved burdens, obstructions, and prizing what others have. Unconditional life acceptance is a practical strategy that flows from REBT philosophy and helps you attempt to change what you can in life and accept the unchangeable. REBT acknowledges that changing aversive external situations is ideal. However, unconditional life acceptance is essential because changing many aspects of life is often impossible due to the very nature of life. When we face life's greatest frustrations and hardships, we can have a healthy emotional and behavioral reaction by changing our attitudes and cultivating unconditional life acceptance. Furthermore, it is prudent to remember that good can come from misfortune, and we will be in the best position to extract the good from the bad when we have mastered the art of unconditionally accepting life. This mindset is evident in the founder of Stoicism, Zeno of Citium, who is well-known for saying, "I made a prosperous voyage when I suffered a shipwreck."

Unconditional Life Acceptance

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, REBT, teaches that life is a complex, ever-changing mix of good, neutral, and negative moments and happenings. We may enjoy and like some of these moments and incidents; some may be neither favorable nor unfavorable, and some will be very aversive. REBT argues that when we hold flexible and non-extreme attitudes towards life's adversities, we will experience healthy negative emotions that both acknowledge the hardship and motivate us to change what we can change, extract the good from the bad, or live with some degree of happiness despite the unfortunate predicament we find ourselves in. However, humans, by nature, easily hold rigid and extreme attitudes about some of the significant matters in life, creating misery when they inevitably face the hard side of life. REBT theory suggests that the more critical the subject at hand, the easier it is for humans to go from thinking with flexible preferences to rigidly held attitudes. It is our rigid and extreme mindset about adversity that leads to emotional disturbance, which then diminishes life satisfaction.

Below is a short list of some of the more challenging circumstances, aspects, and hardships of life:

  1. injustice 
  2. lousy weather when on vacation
  3. financial loss or poor returns on investments
  4. insufficient time or money to fulfill our desires
  5. loss of employment of treasured jobs 
  6. loss of cherished homes and environments
  7. uncertainty
  8. tradeoffs rather than ideal solutions to significant problems
  9. facing resistance to fulfilling an important goal
  10. rejection in friendship or unrequited love
  11. illness
  12. dissatisfaction with body size, looks, and other bodily or personality characteristics
  13. functional impairment through injury, illness, aging
  14. physical or emotional pain
  15. reduced options as aging occurs
  16. loss of loved ones or loved pets through death 
  17. our death

Examine the self-defeating attitudes that undermine unconditional life acceptance and their flexible and non-extreme alternatives shown below:

Self-defeating Attitude toward Life: Injustice must not exist. The playing field of life must be level.

Unconditional Life Acceptance Attitude: Sometimes, just conditions prevail in life, but justice does not always have to occur. Life is a mix of just and unjust instances, and I will do my best to cope with the injustice I face. When life is unfair, it does not make life completely bad; instead, it is merely bad in that way.

Self-defeating Attitude toward Life: It must not be lousy weather when I go on vacation.

Unconditional Life Acceptance Attitude: It would be wonderful if there were natural laws of the universe that did not permit inclement weather when a person takes a vacation, but sadly, such a law does not have to exist. It will sometimes rain when we take a vacation, which is too bad. When it rains, it makes it bad for that occurrence, but it does not make the whole of life bad. Life remains a mix of good, neutral, and bad happenings.

Self-defeating Attitude toward Life: Losing money must not occur. All financial investments must lead to a positive return on investment.

Unconditional Life Acceptance Attitude: It would be great if all investments led to positive returns, but that does not have to be the case. Investing always requires risk. That is life. Sometimes, an investment will work out, and sometimes, I will lose money. It's too bad I lost money on this investment.

Self-defeating Attitude toward Life: I must get and retain my desired job.

Unconditional Life Acceptance Attitude: I wish I could get and retain the job I covet, but unfortunately, sometimes, I will apply for a job and not be offered the job. Other times, I will get the job but will be made redundant. It is false to the facts that this must not happen in life to me. Too bad. I can accept that these things happen and work to find another job. I also continue cultivating my skills to remain an attractive candidate, increasing my odds of keeping my coveted position.

Self-defeating Attitude toward Life: There absolutely should be ample time and money to do all you wish to do

Unconditional Life Acceptance Attitude: Unfortunately, we all have limited time. Time only goes forward. We do not get a chance to rewind events and do them over. We often have too little time to accomplish all we wish, which is too bad. We have the time we have and never must have more time, no matter how many demands on our time or how ambitious we are. Therefore, having goals, making lists and planning, monitoring time use, and accepting that time waits for no one is important. Demanding we have more time is a way to waste time and energy by upsetting ourselves. Accept life and the passage of time unconditionally to avoid time wasting, unhealthy regret, or anxiety. 

Self-defeating Attitude toward Life: When bidding on a home, I must win and get my dream home.

Unconditional Life Acceptance Attitude: Although we may have a strong desire to win the bid on our dream home, it does not follow that we have to hold the winning bid. Life often has disappointment regarding significant purchases, and losing out does not make life completely bad. Accept that sometimes you will have the winning hand in life, and sometimes you will not. Too bad. Unconditional life acceptance will help you bounce back from such great disappointments.

Self-defeating Attitude toward Life: I have to be able to live where I want to live.

Unconditional Life Acceptance Attitude: It would be ideal if I could live precisely where I wish to live, but the conditions of life can be such that this is impossible. You do not have to live where you want to, and you can choose not to be miserable where you are. Strive to move to where you wish to live, but see that you do not get time back at the end of your life for those moments you needlessly made yourself miserable for being unable to live where you wished.

Self-defeating Attitude toward Life: I cannot bear uncertainty. I have to have certainty.

Unconditional Life Acceptance Attitude: Demanding certainty, even when what is at stake is critical, only leads to anxiety and paralysis. You live in a probabilistic world and can acknowledge and accept this aspect of life. Now proceed with action or in action and accept whatever way life evolves.

Self-defeating Attitude toward Life: There absolutely should not be tradeoffs in life. Ideal paths and solutions must exist.

Unconditional Life Acceptance Attitude: I wish there were ideal solutions, but sadly, there are only paths and solutions with different tradeoffs. That is the nature of life, and angering yourself will only distort your ability to find the best tradeoffs in any given situation. 

Self-defeating Attitude toward Life: I must not face resistance to fulfilling an important goal. 

Unconditional Life Acceptance Attitude: All people will sooner or later face resistance and frustrations as they pursue their most important goals. That is life, and you are not exempt from this treatment. Rather than demand to be special, hold a flexible and non-extreme attitude to keep your composure, maintain motivation, and problem-solve your way around obstruction. Life does not have to be frustration-free. 

Self-defeating Attitude toward Life:  My life should not have rejection in friendship or unrequited love. It hurts too much for me to bear.

Unconditional Life Acceptance Attitude: The pain in life from rejection and unrequited love is often inevitable, but suffering is optional. Keep your wish for the love and approval of significant others, but see that you do not have to get what you want. When rejected, there will be pain but not the evidence that it is not unbearable. Avoid making it worse by not accepting that pain and unrequited love are part of life. Accept that life may sometimes have heartache, but that does not make life totally bad.

Self-defeating Attitude toward Life: My life must not include coping with physical illness. When we lose our health, life is completely bad.

Unconditional Life Acceptance Attitude: I wish life did not involve illness, but sadly, it does. Your life does not have to exclude disease. You compound ill health by demanding it not be part of life's journey. Strive to have some happiness despite ill health. 

Self-defeating Attitude toward Life: I am dissatisfied with my body size and looks. Nature should have bestowed upon me the physique and looks I long for.

Unconditional Life Acceptance Attitude: It is too bad you are dissatisfied with your body size and looks, but that is life. We don't get a chance to pick the physique we desire. All the conditions were right for you to have the physical characteristics you possess. Strive to do what you can healthily, but recognize there are limits to what you can change. You can accept yourself and life unconditionally and still have a good time despite your unwanted physical characteristics. Acceptance is often more practical and better than plastic surgery.

Self-defeating Attitude toward Life: I cannot bear functional impairment through injury, illness, and aging. Life is totally bad when we grow old, get sick, and age.

Unconditional Life Acceptance Attitude: Functional impairment through injury, illness, and aging is unfortunate, uncomfortable, and sometimes hard to bear, but as long as you are alive, the evidence shows it is not unbearable. Discipline your mind to accept the functional impairment gracefully. Assume you can enjoy life despite these impairments. Strive to be creative by holding a flexible and non-extreme attitude towards functional impairment. It happens to us all. That is life.

Self-defeating Attitude toward Life: My life ought not to include physical or emotional pain.

Unconditional Life Acceptance Attitude: Life has moments of physical and emotional pain. There is no harm in wishing this was not the case, but do not demand a pain-free life. Life does not have to be pain-free. Strive to have the strength to bear the pain of life. The Persian philosopher and poet Rumi said, "The cure for the pain is the pain." See that you can bear it for as long as it lasts.

Self-defeating Attitude toward Life: I absolutely should not face certain reduced options as I grow older. Life should permit all the possibilities I once enjoyed as a younger person.

Unconditional Life Acceptance Attitude: As we age, unfortunately, we face specific reduced options, but it does not have to be otherwise. Rather than upset yourself by demanding that life not change your options, accept life as it is and look for the options that remain open to you. Emotional disturbance never makes life and its reduced options easier to withstand.

Self-defeating Attitude toward Life: I cannot bear the loss of loved ones or beloved pets through death. Without them, life is totally bad.

Unconditional Life Acceptance Attitude: Lossing loved ones and beloved pets through death is hard, but sadly, loss is part of life. It will take time, and the loss of your closest loved ones will be a great test, but hearts recover from significant loss. Acceptance of the losses of life is what repairs a broken heart. Loss does not have to be absent from anyone's life. 

Self-defeating Attitude toward Life: I absolutely should not face death. Life is not worth living and is meaningless if in, in the end, we die.

Unconditional Life Acceptance Attitude: All living creatures and plants die. Life is worth living when we live to enjoy ourselves and not prove ourselves. Meaning comes from having some mission regardless of whether you accomplish it. Your mission gives your life direction and structures your time. Experiment till you find your mission and what gives your life meaning. Demanding that you not face death will demoralize you. Strive to accept what you cannot change: that you and all those you love will die, and all who remember the dead will die generation after generation. Death is as natural as birth, and demanding it not happen to you will only cause you to squander your time and create needless misery. Strive to laugh, learn, and love till the moment of death.


Monitor your level of unconditional life acceptance. Discipline your mind to maintain a flexible attitude and rate life's happenings as bad, but avoid seeing life as completely bad. Observe how your life satisfaction increases as you cultivate unconditional life acceptance.

Watch the Video for This Article on YouTube

About the Author...

I was trained by the two pioneers of the CBT paradigm, Aaron T. Beck and Albert Ellis. I am affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania, teach at New York University, and have a private practice in Manhattan. I aim to disseminate these powerful ideas and do it through my website and my weekly Saturday demonstrations at 9 AM on Zoom.

Click here to contact or learn more about Dr. Walter J. Matweychuk

Last Update: 1/17/2024

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