Finding Acceptance: What You Can Learn from the Japanese Concept of Ukeireru

At the start of this year, we posted a piece about what we thought would be a good “word of the year” for 2021: resilience. It seemed fitting to take some time to think about ways to bounce back and keep moving forward after the rough 2020 that we all experienced; it was helpful for us, and we hope it was for you, too! Now we’re already in the middle of a slightly improved 2021, and thinking that maybe tending to our collective  mental health is still on everyone’s minds…

So, maybe what we all need to do is rewind, look our situations in the face and work on some acceptance. To that end, let’s look to Japanese culture, in which acceptance is considered a value that can have a very positive impact on your life – it has nothing to do with resignation, and everything to do with making peace with your situation (and making the best of it), as well as living in harmony with the world around you. Sounds good, right? So how can you work toward practicing the Japanese concept of “ukeireru,” or acceptance?

What Is Ukeireru?

silhouette of a head with words inside the brain and the words "reset your mind"
Many psychologists believe that practicing ukeireru is a way to reframe our mindset.

In the Japanese language, there are actually multiple words that could be translated to the English word “acceptance,” but “ukeireru” is having a moment right now, probably because of this concept’s emphasis on our relationships with others and on accepting the world around us (and what it unleashes on us). While it can be a complicated concept, it can be boiled down to, according to psychologist Scott Haas (who recently wrote a book on ukeireru), “Acceptance of oneself, others, and communities.” Many psychologists believe that practicing ukeireru is a way to reframe our mindset, relieve some of the stresses that plague us, and work towards greater happiness, both for ourselves and those around us – which would ultimately make the world better for everyone. 

Accept Yourself!

While self-acceptance is not the only aim of practicing ukeireru, it is a very necessary first step – after all, wasn’t it that wisest of drag queens, RuPaul, who said, “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you going to love someone else?” All joking aside, psychology research does tell us that being more accepting of ourselves, including accepting all of our thoughts and emotions, improves our mental health and helps us to better deal with the stress in our lives. When it comes to ukeireru, practicing self-acceptance means that you can make the mental space in your life to move on from negative or stressful situations. 

For example, you need to accept that you are unhappy with your job before you can look for one that makes you happier, or you need to accept your grief for the loss of a loved one before you can start to heal. And, because ukeireru means accepting that you are part of nature and the world around you, it allows you to recognize that you, like nature, are constantly changing, and the crises or stressors that you are facing will not last. 

Know Your Place in the World

a group of people's legs sitting next to each other.
Your place in the world depends on your relationships with your family, and community.

So, if ukeireru places such a big emphasis on how we are a part of the world around us, that means that it goes far beyond self-acceptance; to really practice ukeireru, you have to understand that looking inward is important in finding acceptance, but so is really taking the time to observe the world around you and find your place in it. Acceptance means accepting that your place in the world depends on your relationships with your family, community and nature. Your happiness depends on others, and theirs depends on you. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Those who are not looking for happiness are the most likely to find it, because those who are searching forget that the surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others.” 

While our first instinct, especially in American culture, is to look at happiness, as well as stress, as an individual thing, practicing ukeireru tells us that we are a part of something bigger. According to Scott Haas, this type of acceptance is “…to see that whatever makes me unhappy makes others in my community unhappy, too. Knowing that I am not alone continues to diminish my stress: We are in this together. As a result, through the practice of behaviors informed by ukeireru, the feelings of despair and helplessness, the hallmarks of stress, are diminished. That creates calm and focus needed to address causes.” But don’t worry if you’re an introvert, this doesn’t mean you suddenly have to become some sort of joiner or group enthusiast – the practice of ukeireru is simply meant to make you more aware that you are one part of many groups that you rely on.

Working Towards Ukeireru

Does that sound exactly like what you need right now: a path toward accepting your own feelings and moving forward, as well as a way to feel more connected in your relationships and to your wider community? If so, how can you get started incorporating this concept into your life? First, remember two things: 

  • Acceptance is different from resignation – When you resign yourself, you basically give up on making a change for the better. Acceptance, in the sense of ukeireru, is all about allowing for change and working toward improvement, for yourself and your community
  • Ukeireru is not a quick-fix, once-a-day practice – Acceptance is not something you can pencil into your schedule in 30-minute blocks, like a yoga or meditation practice. It’s a mindset that you need to work on.

To work on this mindset, you can try the following:woman walking through a trail in the forest with 2 dogs

  • Make time for nature – Ukeireru emphasizes finding harmony with nature, so get out there and reconnect with it! Take a hike, go to a beautiful garden – you can even surround yourself with houseplants. Be especially mindful of how nature makes you feel, and of the changes that you see and feel in the outside world; if you notice how slow the natural world can change, it can help you to realize that it is also natural and positive that there will be small, slow changes in your own life.
  • Try to find what it is that’s actually stressing you out – How often does something like this happen to you: you have a blow up with your partner because of something unimportant, or you get angry with a stranger, like a customer service rep, and take out your frustrations on them? Practicing ukeireru means looking deeper, and recognizing that usually the problem isn’t you or the other person (in whatever situation you’re stressed about), it’s some underlying problem that’s bubbling under the surface. Try to practice connecting more with the root issue and working on that, instead of burying it in little everyday stresses.
  • Remind yourself that this too shall pass – Just as a storm will pass in nature, so too will any negative situation that is affecting you, and reminding yourself that what you’re experiencing or feeling won’t last forever could help relieve some stress. 
  • Think about your impact – If you accept that you’re part of a wider community (remember, we’re all in this together!), then stop and consider the impact that your decisions have on others around you. Part of practicing ukeireru is remembering that you are just one part of society as well as working to understand other points of view; doing this will mean that you’re less likely to automatically react in negative ways to something or someone that is upsetting you, and you’ll end up less stressed.silhouette of a woman's head with words inside that says "practice being present"
  • Be present – Find ways to simply be in the present moment, and to tune out the stressors that are plaguing you and tune into your thoughts and feelings. Try listening to music, journaling, meditating, taking walks, whatever makes you feel grounded. According to Scott Haas, “Anything that helps you remove yourself from a situation to create space away from the stress can help enormously.”
  • Enjoy the silence – Scott Haas points out that very often in Japan, silence is used as an effective way to communicate with others. Think about it: if you take time to just listen and observe you’ll not only learn a lot, but you’ll also show your respect and build trust with the person you’re engaging with. 
  • Be kind to others and to yourself – Being kind to the people in your life is always a good idea, and so is spreading kindness in your community. Consider how your actions can set off a positive chain reaction! But it is also important to be kind to yourself: accept your own feelings, and remember that it is 100% okay to feel things like fear, anxiety and sadness. Beating yourself up won’t change anything, and you can’t move forward and move on until you’re okay with feeling the way you feel; once you do, you can figure out how you can make things better for yourself. 

Here’s hoping that 2021 continues to improve, and that we can all continue to move forward with an acceptance of the world around us and our own place in it. And hopefully, this look at ukeireru will help get you closer to that goal!

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