The holidays are not always a happy time for many people, particularly for adults who are disappointed or hurt year after year — that their family isn’t what they want it to be, that they got stuck with all the gift-buying and holiday tasks, that they always do do do for everyone, everywhere, and no one seems particularly grateful.
Which makes the holidays a fruitful time to think about forgiveness. If we want to feel happy over the holidays, we need to let go of grudges from last year and prevent those same old transgressions from happening again — and in many (often very difficult) cases, anticipate the times we’ll be expected to hold hands with family members who have hurt us.
My point: This holiday season will be a lot happier if we aren’t angry and resentful. I’ve blogged before about how forgiveness is something we do for ourselves, to lead happier lives:
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.
Fred Luskin, the director of the Stanford Forgiveness Project, has spent decades researching and teaching about forgiveness. Luskin emphasizes that forgiveness is not about forgetting, as the adage would have us believe, but about letting go. It is about choosing positive emotions over negative ones; it is a decision that results in an entirely different emotional experience.
Luskin has developed a program to help people learn to forgive even the most heinous acts. I’ve translated his forgiveness program here into skills and concepts we can practice ourselves:
- A good first step is to develop the ability to understand your emotions and articulate them when something is bothering you. Practice this by identifying and talking about your feelings, particularly when you are hurting.
- When you are upset, practice mindfulness. This will help turn off your fight or flight response so that you can respond to the upsetting situation more effectively.
- Another important way to practice forgiveness is simply to acknowledge how awful we feel when we ruminate about how we’ve been hurt, and remind ourselves of all the positive benefits for ourselves of forgiveness. When we feel hurt, it can help to recognize that what we are feeling is distress coming from what we are thinking and feeling right now, not from the original offense, whether it was months or just minutes ago.
- Remember that we suffer when we demand things that life is not giving us. We can hope for things, of course, and we can work hard to get what we want. But we cannot force things to happen that are outside of our control. When we expect something outside of our control to happen and then it doesn’t, we feel hurt and wronged. Practice letting go of desire for things you have no influence over, and redirect your energy towards things you do have control over.
- Talk with someone neutral about your desire for revenge, if that is holding you back. Remember that the best revenge is a life well-lived. When we focus on how we’ve been hurt, we give power to the person who hurt us because it causes us to continue hurting.
Forgiving is tough business. It takes courage and resolve to let go of negative feelings when we’ve been wronged. Fortunately this 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.
Image courtesy of eekim