Do you consider yourself a forgiving person? We have all experienced that person who rubs us the wrong way or a situation that make us angry. When these things happen, do you tend to hold a grudge, or do you easily forgive?
Using the character strength of forgiveness, we let go of negative feelings, past hurts, and grudges. We favor instead accepting others’ shortcomings, making amends and giving people second chances. In her book The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, Sonja Lyubomirsky wrote that when we forgive, we replace desires to avoid the person or get revenge with more positive feelings and behaviors.
In the past, I’ve been slow to forgive and the grudges I’ve held have festered into bitterness, anger, or detachment from the people I was begrudging. Now, I’m practicing letting go of those grudges and have been forgiving people much more quickly. For me, it’s not as easy as waving the magic wand and saying “I forgive you.” When it was difficult, I found forgiveness with the help of the following exercises:
Sonja Lyubomirsky wrote that our ability to forgive positively impacts our health and happiness; forgiveness is something we do for ourselves, not for the other person. If you’re stuck in a grudge, give one of these a try to see if you can find a way to forgive and leave the heavy burden of the grudge behind.
The character strength of gratitude includes awareness of and thankfulness for the good things in your life, as well as taking the time to express thanks for your blessings. You may feel grateful for your health, your relationships, or good things that happen to you.
In her book, The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky wrote that gratitude is many things including wonder, appreciation, seeing the bright side, thanking people and God, counting blessings, savoring, and more. Grateful thinking gives us a happiness boost because it:
One of the most common gratitude practices is documenting your blessings in a gratitude journal. I’ve written about this type of gratitude practice before (which you can read here), and was interviewed about my gratitude experience for another blog post, which you can read here.
But when we are struggling, it can be difficult to see the good things. I was recently searching for the “silver lining” in a challenging situation. Unable to see past the negative aspects of the situation, I only identified five positives (and they were weak ones – I was really stretching). Knowing that I was struggling with this, a wise friend suggested that instead of focusing on the positives about the specific situation or people involved in it, I focus instead on the positives that have happened because of the situation.
In other words, my friend encouraged me to take a more holistic look and consider it from this perspective: “Because of this situation or relationship, I’ve been able to…”
When I returned to my journal with this question in mind, I quickly came up with over 25 positive outcomes – a far cry above the original five. This robust list came easily and everything I documented were real, meaningful outcomes. This simple reframe and the resulting action were instrumental in releasing negative feelings about the situation and supporting me in moving forward in a more positive and productive manner.
How strong is the character strength of gratitude in your life? If your gratitude muscles could benefit from a boost, I invite you to experiment with one or more of these practices:
“People who are consistently grateful [are] relatively happier, more energetic, and more hopeful.”
How do you practice gratitude, and what results do you see from your practice?
Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want. New York: Penguin Group.
Character Strengths and VIA Survey
Peterson, C., & Park, N. (2009). Classifying and measuring strengths of character. In S. J. Lopez & C. R. Snyder (Eds.), Oxford handbook of positive psychology, 2nd edition (pp. 25-33). New York: Oxford University Press. www.viacharacter.org
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press and Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. www.viacharacter.org