Why Having No Hope for the Future Causes Depression

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "When Things Fall Apart" by Pema Chödrön. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Are you frustrated with how your life turned out? How do you accept reality and move on?

Many people would love to believe they can make life difficult by changing their fate, but there’s actually a better way to cope with your situation. In When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chödrön suggests accepting reality for how it is because ultimately, there’s nothing any of us can do to change it.

Continue reading to learn how to accept reality and move on.

Accept Reality as It Is

Chödrön’s recommendation for coping more gracefully with difficulty is to learn how to accept reality and move on. When you stop resisting reality, you can relax and accept whatever is happening in your life and experience more peace, even if your circumstances are painful and stressful. 

(Shortform note: Accepting reality as it is doesn’t mean that you resign to or approve of the way things are. Like giving up hope, accepting reality may seem like a counterproductive approach to achieving peace if your reality is difficult, overwhelming, and unjust. However, many leaders in psychology assert that if you don’t accept reality, you waste a lot of mental and emotional effort on resisting it—feeling angry and cheated, for example—that could be used toward cultivating compassion and making positive changes. A common saying in the mental health field is “what you resist persists.”)

Chödrön says to accept reality, you must acknowledge the limited knowledge and control you have in life. In doing so, you can accept the present moment as it is without trying to predict or control the future. Our minds confidently develop inaccurate ideas about ourselves and reality all the time, and we tend to cling to our ideas, even when they’re negative because they provide us with a sense of familiarity and security. However, this sense of security is false, as everything, including ourselves, is in a constant state of change. Chödrön explains that when you accept how little you know about the present and future, you open more to the possibility that your challenging circumstances may have a positive outcome that you can’t yet imagine.

Develop a regular meditation practice and practice mindfulness in your daily life to learn how to stop resisting reality and fighting with yourself and your circumstances. Every time you acknowledge your thoughts, let them go, and return your attention to your breath, you’re strengthening your ability to compassionately accept yourself and reality. Chödrön argues that there is nothing so big or overwhelming that mindfulness and compassion can’t help.

The Wisdom of Surrender in Spiritual and Mental Health Contexts

Another way that spiritual traditions and mental health programs talk about letting go of our ideas about the world and acknowledging the little control we have over our lives is in the practice of surrender

In Hinduism, the term ishvara pranidhana refers to the practice of letting go of the ego’s need for control and recognizing that there is a greater power at work in the universe. It’s a way of acknowledging and surrendering to divine will rather than trying to impose your own will on the world. Ishvara pranidhana is a powerful approach for cultivating acceptance, inner peace, and connection to the present moment and can be achieved through prayer, meditation, and yoga.

In a mental health context, 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) often encourage surrender as a part of recovery. One of the first steps in AA states that you should surrender your will and life to the care of a higher power. This step is seen as a key component of recovery from addiction, as it involves recognizing the limits of your control over your life and seeking guidance and support from something greater than you.
How to Accept Reality and Move On: Stop Resisting Today

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Here's what you'll find in our full When Things Fall Apart summary:

  • How to find courage and compassion amid pain, loss, and uncertainty
  • How to use pain and suffering to grow and transform your life
  • Buddhist methods for easing suffering and finding inner peace

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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