Forgiveness is like eating chicken soup for whatever ails you – it helps you feel better all over. You forgive others to help yourself – not to help the other person. Surprised? In my definition of forgiveness, the goal is to neutralize the emotional charge that you carry toward a person who has harmed you. Forgiveness is like letting yourself out of jail – you release the hateful, vengeful thoughts that imprison you and make you feel bad every time you remember the hurtful incident.
So if forgiveness is like chicken soup, what are the results of enjoying a steaming, savory bowl of the stuff? Here are five personal benefits to forgiving:
- You are healthier. You do your body a favor when you forgive. Recent research has shown that the act of forgiveness pays dividends in the form of less illness and physical maladies. Some schools of thought state that the lack of forgiveness is the root cause of all physical illness, and that the first thought you should have when you discover a physical ailment is, “Who or what do I need to forgive?”
- You are happier and more peaceful. A human being is an energy-producing and energy-consuming organism. The state of non-forgiveness, along with feelings of vengeance, hate and self-recrimination, drain you of energy – they divert large amounts of your daily energy allotment, leaving less power for positive emotions and for enjoying life. Once you learn to forgive, you free up the energy that was invested in maintaining your negative emotions. Now you have energy to invest in positive experiences and enjoyment of your many blessings.
- You enjoy improved mental health. Recent research shows that people who learn to forgive suffer from fewer incidents of depression than before. In addition, people who forgive experience less anxiety. Before learning forgiveness, your spirit is stuck in negative emotions such as anger, resentment, and vengeance. When you forgive, you make room for more positive emotions such as love and compassion.
- Your stress level decreases. Stress is your response to a perceived threat. What one person perceives as a threat is not a threat to another. If you remain in a state of non-forgiveness, you have less energy to devote to seeking other perceptions of a stressor and seeing it in a different light. A large cause of stress is a lack of control over a situation or your life. When you forgive, you are choosing a different response from the past, which gives you more control over your life and reduces your stress level.
- It is easier to stay in the present moment. The process of forgiveness frees you from the tyranny of remembering past hurts. Your spirit no longer is bound to the past, your mind stops reviewing and re-living grievances, and you stop clinging to a victim’s role. You are able to live in the present moment, which is the most spiritually mature way to live. When you live in the present moment, you live with a heart and a mind that are wide open to perceiving the wonders and blessings of life.
It is hard to contemplate an employee in today’s workplace who doesn’t have someone or something to forgive. Forgiveness opportunities range from relatively minor annoyances to major grievances. A minor annoyance at the office, especially in cubicle-land, is the allergic co-worker who sits in the next cube and loudly clears his throat all day in the most annoying way. Can you forgive him? Or what about the customer from hell who yells at you for something you have no control over? Is that forgivable? Consider the boss who repeatedly overlooks you for promotions that you clearly deserve or who gives you a bad performance review? That is not easy to forgive. An even bigger grievance is the boss or business partner who swindles you out of a large sum of money, or who sexually harasses you. Now, that’s a big deal.
Everyone constantly faces forgiveness opportunities – at work, at home, towards you and toward others. In my new book, A Forgiveness Journal, I present a seven step process of forgiving, that includes identifying your feelings, talking it out, changing viewpoints, gaining perspective, writing to the other person, acting and blessing the other. By following these steps, you too can reap the benefits of forgiveness. It’s like eating chicken soup when you feel bad – you will feel better all over!
Kristin’s forthcoming book, A Forgiveness Journal: Letting Go of the Past, will be released on March 9, 2009.