One of the best habits for happy living may also be the least practiced

A recently conducted survey of 5,000 people identifies a strong link between self-acceptance and happiness. The problem? Self-acceptance is not something most of us are in the habit of practicing.

Photo Credit: Daniel Y. Go via flickr

The survey, which was conducted by the charity Action for Happiness, in collaboration with Do Something Different, asked participants to rate themselves between 1 and 10 based on the frequency with which they practice ten habits identified as being key to personal happiness.

The list-of-ten itself is pretty sappy, so we'll refrain from enumerating them here (suffice it to say the description of each habit on the list has been massaged in such a way that their first letters spell out "GREAT DREAM." Seriously.). Moreover, none of the items on the list – which includes things like exercise, being a part of something bigger than yourself, and giving to others – is particularly revelatory. What was surprising, however, was the observed gap between the amount of happiness and satisfaction derived from the practice of self-acceptance and the amount of time people spent practicing it. As psychologist Jeremy Dean notes in a post over at PSYBlog:

The survey showed that one of the largest associations between these happy habits and reported happiness was for self-acceptance.... This category, though, got the lowest rating for people actually performing the habit.

Why the disparity? "Our society puts huge pressure on us to be successful and to constantly compare ourselves with others. This causes a great deal of unhappiness and anxiety," posits Mark Williamson, Director of Action for Happiness. "These findings remind us that if we can learn to be more accepting of ourselves as we really are, we're likely to be much happier."

But as Psychology Today's Christopher Bergland points out, it's important to be remain mindful of the distinction between self-acceptance and apathy:

There is a potential paradox in terms of believing "I'm 100% OK" and was "Born This Way" being extremely positive ... and the potential backlash of believing "you're totally fine as you are" justifying complacency and keeping you stuck in a rut... It's important to identify specific lifestyle choices, habits, and character traits that you should happily accept while also being objective about things you might want to work on improving. Finding the sweet spot between self-acceptance vs. self-improvement requires being honest and compassionate about who you are, while simultaneously acknowledging that nobody's perfect and we can always improve ourselves.

Still, try not to be too hard on yourself – and always remember that one of the best ways to be happy might actually be to stop trying so hard to be happy.

For more analysis on the study visit at PSYBlog and Psychology Today.