The #1 Most Impactful Well-Being Habit That We Practice The Least

self-acceptance habitDid you know that self-acceptance is one of the well-being habits that we practice the least, but that it’s the most impactful habit of all?

A UK survey of 5,000 participants found that out of 10 key “Happy Habits”, participants engaged in self-acceptance the least; see the table below (Action for Happiness, 2014).

self-acceptance research finding
*Scale where 1 = least often/never, 10 = most often/always

And lest we assume that people neglect to practice self-acceptance because they already enjoy a high level of self-acceptance, research has found this hypothesis to be unproven. A recent study of adults using the Unconditional Self-Acceptance Questionnaire indicated that the median self-acceptance for adults is low and that a high proportion of people—both men and women—report low or very low self-acceptance (Vasile, 2013).

Further, we know that mindfulness is related to tons of positive outcomes, and it seems that enhanced self-acceptance is the mechanism through which many of these positive outcomes occur. Self-acceptance is the strongest link between mindfulness and depressive symptoms, indicating that it is through improving self-acceptance that depression is kept at bay (Jimenez, Niles, & Park, 2010).

Self-acceptance is strongly correlated with both mindfulness and subjective well-being (SWB), and research suggests it is a “critical factor” for SWB (Xu, Oei, Liu, Wang, & Ding, 2014). It is also a mediating factor between mindfulness and healthy self-image, a relationship that is particularly important for those with eating disorders (Astani, 2016). Self-acceptance is also the mediator between mindfulness and perceived stress (Rodriguez, Xu, Wang, & Liu, 2015).

Not only does self-acceptance influence our feelings and emotions, it has an impact on the brain itself. Poor self-acceptance is intimately tied with poor self-esteem, and feeling bad about yourself is associated with structural changes in the brain; those with low self-acceptance/self-esteem have less grey matter in the anterior cingulate cortex, the right lateral prefrontal cortex, the right hippocampus, and the left hypothalamus (Agroskin, Klackl, & Jonas, 2014). These areas of the brain are involved in emotion and stress regulation, so a lack of grey matter in these areas can translate to more stress, more anxiety, less control over emotions, and a lower sense of well-being (Pillay, 2016).

Self-acceptance allows us to forgive ourselves (Dixon, Earl, Lutz-Zois, Goodnight, & Peatee, 2014), forgive others (Porada, Sammut, & Milburn, 2018), and have a high tolerance of frustration and discomfort (Jibeen, 2017).

We explore this further in The Science of Self-Acceptance Masterclass©.

Action for Happiness. (2014). Self-acceptance could be the key to a happier life. Action for Happiness News. Retrieved from webpage

Agroskin, D., Klackl, J., & Jonas, E. (2014). The self-liking brain: a VBM study on the structural substrate of self-esteem. PloS one9(1), e86430.

Astani, A. (2016). Mindfulness and unconditional self-acceptance as protective factors against thin ideal internalization. Annals of the AI. I. Cuza University, Psychology Series, 25, 37-46.

Dixon, L. J., Earl, K. A., Lutz-Zois, C. J., Goodnight, J. A., & Peatee, J. J. (2014). Explaining the link between perfectionism and self-forgiveness: The mediating roles of unconditional self-acceptance and rumination. Individual Differences Research, 12, 101-111.

Jibeen, T. (2017). Unconditional self acceptance and self esteem in relation to frustration intolerance beliefs and psychological distress. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 35, 207-221. doi:10.1007/s10942-016-0251-1

Jimenez, S. S., Niles, B. L., & Park, C. L. (2010). A mindfulness model of affect regulation and depressive symptoms: Positive emotions, mood regulation expectancies, and self-acceptance as regulatory mechanisms. Personality and Individual Differences, 49, 645-650. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2010.05.041

Pillay, S. (2016). Greater self-acceptance improves emotional well-being. Harvard Health Publishing Blog. Retrieved from

Porada, K., Sammut, S., & Milburn, M. (2018). Empirical investigation of the relationships between irrationality, self-acceptance, and dispositional forgiveness. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 36, 234-251. doi:10.1007/s10942-017-0284-0

Rodriguez, M. A., Xu, W., Wang, X., & Liu, X. (2015). Self-acceptance mediates the relationship between mindfulness and perceived stress. Psychological Reports: Mental & Physical Health, 116, 513-522. doi:10.2466/07.PR0.116k19w4

Vasile, C. (2013). An evaluation of self-acceptance in adults. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 78, 605-609. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.04.360

Xu, W., Oei, T. P. S., Liu, X., Wang, X., & Ding, C. (2016). The moderating and mediating roles of self-acceptance and tolerance to others in the relationship between mindfulness and subjective well-being. Journal of Health Psychology, 21, 1446-1456. doi:10.1177/1359105314555170

About the Author

Courtney Ackerman is a graduate of the positive organizational psychology and evaluation program at Claremont Graduate University. She is currently working as a researcher for the State of California and her professional interests include survey research, well-being in the workplace, and compassion. When she’s not gleefully crafting survey reminders, she loves spending time with her dogs, visiting wine country, and curling up in front of the fireplace with a good book or video game.


  1. charlotte wiseman

    There is no reference for the paper Agroskin, Klackl, & Jonas, 2014 – please can you advise?

    • Craig Smith

      Hi Charlotte, thanks for bringing this to our attention, it has been added to the reference list!

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