Monday, November 07, 2011

Happy people forgive

Sonja Lyubomirsky is a psychology professor at the University of California, as well as a research psychologist. In her studies, she has discovered 12 things that happy people have in common.

I am happy. Even when I'm feeling crappy, I am a happy person. People are forever asking me how I reached this place. It wasn't because I prayed enough, or took a magic pill, or held my mouth just right while dancing on one foot, or was just born happy (um ... NO ... you can ask my mom about that first year). Yet, I have discovered that self disciplines, even the ones which result in fun, have radically changed my life. These are things I learned through my own therapy and medicinal treatment for depression and anxiety. If you realize the concepts in this series are simply not enough, seek help. Insist on it. Find your own personal level of healing, which is different for everyone. Sometimes I speak "happy" with an accent, because I still dance with depression and anxiety - and that is okay.

I thought I'd focus my Mondays on each of the 12 common factors. It makes sense, because Mondays can totally slurp on the happiness meter.


A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away ... I walked into a class on forgiveness. There were only three participants. Myself (in my 20's), a person in their 40's and another person in their 70's.

We were asked to introduce ourselves and share briefly why we were there. The 40-something father and I both talked jokingly about the need for forgiveness with our spouses and our children. It was the typical safe answer. Sharing just enough but not too much. Then we turned our attention to the grandmother in her 70's.

She was not laughing. Her face was solemn as she said, "My best friend hurt me. I have never forgiven her. That was 25 years ago."


Just. wow.

I remember very little from that class, but I have never forgotten those words or the pain wrinkling her face or the anger in her tone. The phrase "25 years" still circles in my head to this day. 25 years. That is a long time to relive hurt and give it power in your life.

That experience launched me into my own journey of figuring out exactly what forgiveness is, what it is not, and discovering how to find peace when I have experienced pain and hurt. I had no idea how the next 15-or-so years would stretch me and challenge all I had learned.

Some truths I repeat to myself:

* Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation
* "Forgive and forget" is a really dumb thing to say, much less believe
* To forgive means I release my desire to hurt back and use the hurt to punish
* My ability or inability to let go has everything to do with me
* Not letting go hurts me, and rarely has any effect on the other person
* Releasing my desire to punish and/or hurt back is hard and takes time
* It is actually possible to truly forgive, even when remembering what happened
* Holding the hurt does not just affect me, but everyone I touch
* Forgiving does not mean we condone hurtful behavior
* Sometimes I have to forgive myself, as well
* I cannot help how I feel, but I always have a choice in what I do

“Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain but it takes character and self control to be understanding and forgiving.” —Dale Carnegie

For some more ideas, challenges and tools for moving forward, check out "How to Let Go and Forgive."

(photo by Matteo Canessa, used with permission)


Dennis Nesser said...

What a fantastic post. I've heard a story of a 70 y/o that hadn't forgiven someone in his teens. Really? Who did that hurt except the 70 y/o.

I love your list of things forgiveness is and what it's not. I think to many think forgiveness is to condone or forget everything. It's not, and you put it as well as anything else I've ever read!

Keep it up!

God Bless,

Mimzy said...

Just wanted to say thanks for this post. There seems to be so much confusion in the christian world surrounding forgiveness. Especially in terms of "forgive and forget". I was raised in a church that pretty much said forgiveness=forgetting. It has taken a while to figure out that forgiveness is something that is dependent on you, while forgetting generally never happens and reconciliation requires the other party being on the same page.

I have lurked for quite a while on your blog and find a lot of encouragement in your "realness".


Claire Whetzel said...

I like calling forgiveness a canceling of a debt. It could be that a person intentially hurt you (you owe me a spiritual debt because you hurt me), or failed in fulfilling their obligations (you owed me certain things because you were my mother, and you didn't deliver). I forgave my mother recently for all the things she did to hurt me, and all the things she didn't do for me that I needed as I grew up. We haven't reconciled (because that would require both parties and she is too self-absorbed to extend herself at this point), but it is very freeing to forgive her. I also found that prayer is essential for forgiveness when I feel like I don't have it in me.

Long time lurker here, too. I have loved your series on happiness. I have been through the wringer and back these past couple of years, but through it all, I still was happy. You have helped me understand why. :)

CORoots said...

I could really do with a forgiveness class. I can grasp the concept, intellectually. But to live it, feel it, and experience it emotionally is still something I don't understand.

Before I know it, I'll be a (much younger version of) lady in that class saying, "I need to forgive my mother. She walked out and in as she pleased and each time she was in she was abusive. I am still furious. That was 25 years ago."

And, frankly, I don't wanna' be that lady. :-)

So how does one find a forgiveness class? Maybe on "The Google"??

Great post, X-tine. This one got me good. Thank you. <3<3