Self-acceptance

The concept of self-acceptance is pretty basic on the surface. It means recognizing that you're a highly complex individual who is OK just as you are. It requires you to embrace everything about yourself -- including those things that you perceive as weaknesses or flaws. This is different from self-esteem, which is a measurement of how worthy we see ourselves. In fact, psychotherapist Albert Ellis argued that people with extremely high self-esteem typically base their self-acceptance on conditions, such as how well they measure up in comparison to others [source: Journal of Rational-Emotive and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy].

Many psychologists believe that our level of self-acceptance directly correlates with how we were accepted by our parents and other authority figures. Children look to their parents to provide acceptance before they reach the age in which they start forming opinions about themselves. If the message is positive, then they're more likely to grow up accepting themselves than children who grow up being told that they're not "good enough."

According to Dr. Leon Seltzer, "if deep within us we're ever to feel -- as our normal state of being -- happy and fulfilled, we must first rise to the challenge of complete, unqualified self-acceptance" [source: Seltzer]. Seltzer calls it a challenge for a reason; you may be combating years of feeling guilty, judging and criticizing yourself. We often treat others better than we treat ourselves. Think about directing that compassion and caring toward yourself. Failing at something doesn't make you a failure as a person. Accept that you're doing the best that you can right now.

Some people think that self-acceptance means ceasing to strive for personal growth, but the two concepts aren't incompatible at all. There's nothing wrong with wanting to learn and become a better person, but self-acceptance is about living in the present, not the past or the future. Speaking of personal growth, next we'll look at another important key in being happy with yourself: setting attainable goals.