Today will be the last post focusing on happiness and relationships for the month, as we’ll wrap up the month with a quarterly recap. But don’t worry, we’ll make it an interesting one!
After exploring the power of relationships generally, some specific relationships, and a couple of broader concepts, I want to wrap up the topic of happiness and relationships by zooming out for one last concept.
For that we will dive into the topic of forgiveness.
There are all sorts of sayings about the power of forgiveness and letting go of grudges and anger.
The Bible says that if you forgive others, then you will be forgiven. It also says that even if someone sins against you seven times in a day, you must forgive them seven times.
Martin Luther King, Jr. tells us to forgive because grudges only breed more hate. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Gandhi tells us that “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
Moral leaders have been telling us for thousands of years to let go of our anger and grudges and to forgive those who have wronged us.
The Science of Forgiveness
Modern science has now been able to back up the traditional wisdom.
It turns out that forgiving people are less anxious, depressed, angry, and neurotic than people who hold onto their anger and grudges. On top of that, they are happier and healthier.
Studies of all sorts of people that have been through all sorts of things show that practicing forgiveness decreases anxiety, increases happiness and self-esteem, and leads to improved health overall.
Forgiveness is For You
Let’s get something clear about forgiveness: It is for your own benefit.
People tend to see forgiveness as something that the other person must earn.
The problem is that the other person’s actions are not in your control. You only have control over yourself. Refusing to forgive someone because they have not earned it is allowing someone else to determine how much anger you hold on to.
Don’t let yourself be held hostage to anger. Forgive early and often.
Forgiveness can benefit your happiness by restoring a relationship.
We know the power of strengthening relationships.
Forgiving someone could be a step towards repairing a relationship. Maybe you start talking to a friend again or you visit family more often.
These improved relationships can boost our happiness.
But forgiveness doesn’t have to be about restoring a relationship. You can forgive someone and still cut them out of your life.
Some relationships are harmful. Toxic, even.
Forgiveness is good in that it allows you to release negative emotions and improve your own happiness as well as mental and physical health. But if your relationship with the other person is harmful to you and they won’t improve, then cut them out.
Forgiveness will still boost your happiness even when it doesn’t strengthen a relationship.
So how do we become more forgiving?
My preferred method is building up empathy for others.
Try to view the situation from the other person’s perspective.
Try to be understanding of their flaws and shortcomings. We all have them, so let’s not judge so harshly.
(As a side note, one scientifically proven way to become a more empathetic person is to read more fiction. It puts you directly in someone else’s shoes for a few hours and builds your empathy muscles. Hit up the library and grab a few novels.)
Assume the Best
Another way to become more forgiving is to fill in the gaps in your knowledge with generous assumptions.
Maybe the person that cut you off in traffic is trying to get to a sick relative.
Maybe the coworker that snapped at you for something minor had a fight with their spouse or didn’t get enough sleep.
Maybe the friend that said something mean is just having a bad day.
We don’t know what battles anyone else may be fighting. We’ve all had days where our worst came out. We wouldn’t want others to judge us harshly based on those days, so let’s try to be careful about judging others.
The more we can start forgiving others and stop holding grudges, the happier we will be.
Join the Conversation!
What are your thoughts on forgiveness? Do you have any experiences to share? Do you have any tips for being more empathetic? Let us know in the comments!