The Challenge of Acceptance

Dr. Purushothaman
August 23, 2013

Most people are aware of The Serenity Prayer, which is one of the guiding principles of Alcoholic Anonymous. Even if you aren’t an AA participant, the basic tenets of the prayer are helpful for navigating life. Attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, the familiar stanza below is actually an excerpt:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can; and
Wisdom to know the difference.

An article on recently reported on a study at Deakin University in Australia that researched how acceptance contributes to aging with satisfaction. The study showed that being able to accept what cannot be changed is as important as the feeling of being able to maintain control. Participants in this study were two groups of older adults – those living in the community and those in residential care.

Retaining control over your life as you age, called “primary control” in the study, was assumed to be equated with happiness, but the study also found “secondary control” of acceptance also leads to life satisfaction. Secondary control refers to the cognitive changes required to adapt to a new environment or situation, as when seniors move into assisted living or other residential care. The researchers concluded from their findings that secondary control tends to mitigate any perceived losses in primary control by allowing us to accept what cannot be changed.

The key factors of satisfaction evaluated in the study were; standard of living, health, life achievements, personal relationships, safety, community connections, future security, spirituality, and religion. Their study results found the group living in the community was happiest having a sense of control, while residential care participants had achieved a sense of well-being from accepting their circumstances.

The study’s authors concluded: “In order to protect the well-being of older individuals, adaptation involves both a sense of control and the active acceptance of what cannot be changed. Primary and secondary perceived control may predict satisfaction with comparable strength depending on the older person’s situation. Acceptance takes more of a prime position in low control situations.”

By Nancy LaFever,

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