How to Accept Things as They Are & Find Freedom

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Almanack of Naval Ravikant" by Eric Jorgenson. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Are you satisfied in life, or do you wish things could be different? How important is it to accept circumstances as they are?

Naval Ravikant advocates the habit of acceptance. Acceptance is simply being content with a circumstance no matter what—it’s a kind of freedom. As he sees it, it’s freedom from things like frustration, expectation, desire, and so on. Practicing acceptance will help you find contentment.

Read more to learn Ravikant’s advice on how to accept things as they are.

Accepting Things as They Are

When you face circumstances that aren’t what you want, Ravikant says you have three options: change them, leave them, or accept them. 

Trying to either change or leave your circumstances involves some kind of struggle—it involves dissatisfaction: This is the opposite of happiness. It’s far better to learn how to accept things as they are. This practice will help build happiness.

An example of how to do this would be reframing a situation that annoys you—someone cutting you off in traffic, for instance. Rather than fixating on the injustice of the act, consider reframing the situation: Think of how it gives you the opportunity to exercise your self-control or practice changing your perspective. Instead of it being merely an inconvenience, consider it an opportunity for growth. 

Acceptance and Cognitive Reframing

This practice of reframing is one strategy Ravikant suggests for learning how to accept your circumstances. In the field of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), this practice is known as cognitive reframing or cognitive restructuring. CBT therapists advise using this strategy for breaking negative thought patterns. 

These experts note that it’s common for people to distort their view of their circumstances—to amplify negative feelings and jump to conclusions about what others may be thinking, for instance. These modes of thinking leave us feeling defeated and unhappy. Experts advise that a first step toward escaping these thoughts is to merely pay attention to the fact that they’re happening: Once you’re aware of these negative patterns, you can work on changing them.

As Ravikant suggests, by reframing our understanding of our circumstances, we can begin to train ourselves to avoid these mental distortions and see reality as it is. Experts find this makes it easier for us to accept our circumstances.  
Freedom From vs. Freedom To

Ravikant distinguishes between freedom from obstacles (negative freedom) and freedom to do what he wishes (positive freedom). This distinction isn’t original to him—it has a long history going back, by some accounts, to the 18th-century philosopher Immanuel Kant and was broadly used by many thinkers throughout the 20th century.

For instance, psychoanalyst Erich Fromm argued that negative freedom on its own inevitably leads to feelings of isolation and meaninglessness. He believed that positive freedom, by contrast, facilitates a sense of meaning and connectedness to others. 

Ravikant uses the idea of positive and negative freedom slightly differently and prioritizes negative freedom over positive freedom. This emphasis stems from his self-professed Buddhist leanings. Buddhism teaches that desire is the source of suffering; therefore, being free from desire enables you to be free from suffering. This is the way Ravikant uses the idea of negative freedom: For him, the desire to change your circumstances is the opposite of happiness because it’s caused by feeling unsatisfied. 
How to Accept Things as They Are & Find Freedom

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Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, science, and philosophy. A switch to audio books has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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