If you want to be happy or even happiest person in the world you must learn to be forgive. Forgiveness is the key to happiness-but how do you actually do it? When we begin to practice forgiveness, the world becomes a better place to live.
I’ve been learning how to forgive over the past year. It’s been rough. It’s a tangled web of relationships changed and complex emotions.
The hardest part for me is knowing where to go from here. I’m in a much better place now that I’ve started the road of forgiveness. I’m not holding a grudge anymore and I’m not holding out for an apology. I’m moving on, but I’m still not sure what complete forgiveness looks like in this situation. Should I hope for the relationship to be redeemed and work toward that? Or should I wash my hands of the relationship and completely move on?
“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burned. ” -Buddha
Few people fully realize the huge impact the ability to forgive can have on their happiness, nor do most people think of this as a skill that they need to teach and practice with their children. But important it is: forgiving people tend to be happier, healthier, and more empathetic (and like the Buddha, more serene, agreeable, and spiritual).
The inability to forgive, on the other hand, tends to make us into those people—we all know a few—who can’t seem to stop plotting revenge or ruminating about how they’ve been wronged. Researchers find unforgiving people tend to be hateful, angry, and hostile—which also makes them anxious, depressed, and neurotic. So unless we are okay with our children embodying those qualities, we need to teach them how and why to forgive others.
Part of going through life with other human beings means sometimes experiencing hurt and betrayal, injury and loss. Childhood can be particularly fraught with meanness and bullying. Children don’t emerge into the world with perfect social competence, and as we are learning to become kinder and better people, we inevitably make mistakes. One of the most difficult but important lessons we can teach our children is that when we hold a grudge—for something large and seemingly justified, or for something small but irksome—we continue to injure ourselves.
Preoccupation with a transgression or hostility towards another can actually make us physically sick. And when we hold onto negative emotions like anger, bitterness, and hatred, we all but eliminate the possibility that we will experience a positive emotion in that moment, because we can’t experience joy when we are expressing resentment, or gratitude when harboring anger.
Why should we forgive?
Well, there are many reasons, but I’m only going to focus on a few.
The first is because, believe it or not, forgiveness is a pleasurable experience. No kidding, it feels much better than anger or hate. God has designed forgiveness as a powerful blessing for those who have been hurt.
The experience of truly forgiving somebody can make you more happy than if you’d never been hurt in the first place.
The second reason for you to forgive is that it removes you from being entangled in the rather dark thing that hurt you in the first place.
If it was a bad business deal, then you get to be free of it and maintain your integrity. If it was a family member talking behind your back, you get to remove yourself completely from all the complications of gossip. Forgiveness sets you free from being bogged down in knee-deep mud.
Forgiveness gives you a taste of what it feels like to be God, and it’s a terrific feeling. God forgave us because it gave Him pleasure to do so. He was happy to do so.
How to Forgive
We teach forgiveness when we forgive others ourselves because our children learn from what we model. We also need to teach our children directly how to forgive. But forgiving other people is challenging. It is not about forgetting, as the adage would have us believe, but about letting go, about choosing positive emotions over negative ones.
1. Tell family stories about times when you’ve hurt others
During dinner, for example, take turns reflecting on a time when you each were forgiven. Recall a time when you hurt someone else, either intentionally or accidentally. Then discuss whether or not you feel forgiven for the offense. If you feel you’ve been forgiven, here are some questions to discuss:
- How do you know you’ve been forgiven?
- Why do you think the person forgave you?
- Do you think the person you hurt felt better or worse after they forgave you?
- How did you feel after you were forgiven?
- What is your relationship like with the person now?
- Did this experience make you more or less likely to repeat the hurtful behavior?
- What did you learn from the whole ordeal?
2. Role-play empathy and forgiveness
Pick a family member to be the forgiver in this exercise, and ask them to describe a particular person that they blame for something hurtful. Then, stand in the offender’s shoes: Why might he have done what he did? What emotions might he have been feeling? Encourage the forgiver to see the broadest picture possible and to give the offender the benefit of the doubt—to imagine the lots of different things that the offender might have been going through. Remind everyone that practicing empathy is not the same as excusing bad behavior, but that it is simply a technique for letting go of anger. Finally, role-play forgiving. What would you say to the offender? What emotions are you feeling as you do the role-play? Try on the facial expressions that you think that you might have when expressing forgiveness. What does your body feel like when you’re feeling or expressing forgiveness?
3. Write a forgiveness letter
Help kids write about a time they were hurt in a letter that they may or may not ever send to the person who hurt them. Have them illustrate how they were affected by it at the time and the hurtful or negative feelings they are still experiencing. They can state what they wish the offender had done instead. Have them end this forgiveness letter with an explicit statement of forgiveness, understanding, and even empathy if they can muster it. For example: “I imagine that you didn’t realize that what you said would make me cry, and so I forgive you for hurting my feelings.”
Forgiving is tough business. It takes courage and resolve to let go of negative feelings when we’ve been wronged. Fortunately it gets easier with practice & especially if we start with the small stuff and get in the habit early on—and it makes us stronger and better people.
4. Accept it
Just accept it as a fact and don’t over analyze it. It happened. This will still be shocking at first, but in time, you will accept it as a fact that you can’t change.
From there, you’re at a place to forgive. It will be hard work, but it’s worth it. Sit and pray for the person you’ve been hating. Sit and imagine them with a good life, them coming to realize that what they did was wrong, maybe not to you, but to somebody, perhaps to God.
5. Love forgives, and so does God, and so can you.
The third reason to forgive is that you open yourself up to amazing possibilities for a happy life. When you don’t forgive, you draw the curtains in your soul and your life gets dark. When you forgive you let the light in again, and you go on about your life in peace. And don’t you want some peace? Isn’t it time for some peace?
The greatest thing about forgiveness is it will allow you to love again. It will allow you to love and be loved. And believe me, it’s worth it. Forgiveness is tough, for sure, but love is infinitely more valuable than the pain forgiveness costs. No matter what you have to go through to forgive, you’re getting a steal of a deal to be able to love and be loved again.
Pay the price and I promise you’ll be happy you did.