From Japan With Acceptance

It wouldn't be the holidays without a dose of pain.

Posted Dec 24, 2020

The weirdness, misery, and anger that have gotten worse since the start of the pandemic have affected just about everyone. It's now clear that what was thought of as personal stories are, in fact, chapters in the same book. One story changes, and another one changes as a result.

If you thought that your family was what defined you, you're right, but only to an extent. Other people, people you don't know and haven't even met, have families that define you, too. That's because we are all part of the same wacky narrative. So while it all feels personal, it's not: It's structural.

Meaning that once we feel better as a result of self-help and individual therapies, holistic or analytical or cognitive or spiritual, we can turn our attention to whodunit. Interesting, isn't it, that the biggest stress that came about in many people's lives took place due to outside forces that had nothing to do with personal details, and that affected everyone in ways that were really similar.

So what have we learned from the pandemic?

Alongside personal stuff, we can see that we all, more or less, are stuck with one another. The person in a foul mood at the supermarket might ruin your day. Your new neighbors loudly rehashing fights at Christmas could make you feel 12 years old again. So how to deal with all that stress now that you're post-therapy?

Step back, and accept the situation; it's stressful, but you don't have to take it personally. In the U.S., that's far from easy—it's not how we're taught, how society is organized, and it's a brand of consciousness that is unfamiliar.  

Japanese psychology can help. I learned this while researching my book, Why Be Happy?: The Japanese Way of Acceptance. Built on the foundations of Shintoism—being part of nature—and Zen Buddhism—acceptance of loss—the country operates on principles of conforming to nature, family, school, work, and community that go far beyond one's personal problems.

We all know that it is far from ideal: Japanese resistance to modern psychiatry is nothing to celebrate, while its current rates of depression and suicide are about the same as the U.S. (due, in part, to an increase here from the opiate epidemic, and a decrease in deaths in Japan). And ask any Japanese woman about being robbed of happiness due to male hegemony that excludes them from an economic and social authority that is equitable. Every country has challenges, and Japan's are enormous; no country is static, and Japan is changing as the older generation lets go of the reins, and women, and the generation under 40 years old, see possibilities of achieving economic authority.

But Japan's use of acceptance, added to the U.S. culture of self-achievement, makes possible a holiday season in which the situation is a matter of recognizing that the turmoil... 

It has nothing to do with you.