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:
- Reflect on when I’ve been forgiven. Sometimes it’s easier to forgive others after remembering the times that we ourselves have been forgiven. I reflected on the people who have forgiven me for things I’ve done or said over the years and wrote in my journal about how grateful I was for being forgiven.
- Write it all out then hand it over. I had been carrying around a lot of anger toward a particular person for years. I was tired from the burden but couldn’t let it go. I pulled out my journal and wrote down everything that person did to make me angry. After writing it all down, I turned it over to Spirit, asking for God’s help in releasing the anger.
- Reflect on the person’s motivations or intentions. I used to automatically assume ill intent. Now, when I notice those assumptions creeping in, I take a step back and ask myself what could have been this person’s motivation or intention behind his or her behavior? Was the person really out to harm me? Or is it possible that the person did have good intentions? Could I have misunderstood their motivation for doing what they did?
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.