The Key to Happiness

Ukeireru: the Japanese mindset may be key to your happiness.

“How can I be happy?” It's the perennial, soul searching question almost all of us seek the answer to.

Clinical psychologist Scott Haas discovered a refreshingly simple and effective way to attain happiness through his intimate experience with Japanese culture over years. And you don’t have to be Japanese to practice it. He introduces the idea in his recently published book: Why Be Happy?

According to Haas, ukeireru, or acceptance, is key to happiness. “Ukeireru means much more than self-acceptance. It means acceptance of our relationships in our families, in school, at work and in our communities. It means accepting others,” he says.  

Living in a society like the U.S. where individualism is celebrated makes it hard to accept anything outside ourselves unconditionally. But ukeireru does not mean subservience or giving in. 

Once you accept what surrounds you as it is, you have room to calmly observe and notice that you are only a part of the society and not that important. As a result, you can more easily understand other points of view and you won’t simply react to a person or an event that you are upset about. And you won’t be so stressed out all the time. 

Haas elucidates this idea of ukeireru with many intriguing examples. For instance, silence is a form of ukeireru. In the chapter of Silence, he describes that very often in Japan silence is used to communicate with others far more effectively than words. It helps to build trust, express respect and learn through listening and observing. If you are busy talking and offering your opinions, you cannot take things in.   

It sounds great. But Japan has a fundamentally different social structure where groups are central to existence. How do you apply the practice of acceptance in a more individualistic Western society? The book does not suggest that you become a group-oriented person. Instead, it makes you aware of the universal truth that you are only a part of many groups that you rely on. And at the end of the day, you are not alone.  

“Who we are and what we can become is defined by your relationships to one another,” Haas argues. 

As a psychologist, he works entirely with individuals from communities in which there is extensive urban poverty and he often interviews them non-verbally. That explains his sharp, insightful observation of the Japanese society in the book. As a result, this book is also useful to understand Japanese culture - how the Japanese view the world and why they behave in certain ways, which are often viewed as enigmatic.

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