Benefits of a Forgiveness Lifestyle: Especially During the Holidays

“I used to be angry for several days, but now I can usually calm down in about ten minutes.” These are words from one of the forgiveness heroes I interviewed who lives a forgiveness lifestyle. She’s human, so of course she will get angry at times. But she’s learned the art of controlling her anger, so her anger doesn’t control her.

The holidays can be wonderful. Lights, decorations, beautiful music, delicious food, social gatherings, and family time can brighten our lives. But the holidays can also be stressful, and we may find ourselves experiencing more angst than joy, especially if we have high expectations and want things to be perfect. Even a little perfection is tough for me to manage. That’s why I strive to live a forgiveness lifestyle, especially during the holidays.

It’s natural to desire perfection, but unrealistic to expect it. No one gets through life without pain and disappointment of some kind or another. Forgiveness may get us through tough times even better than drugs.

All major religions advocate forgiveness and so do health care professionals. The Mayo Clinic has guidance on forgiveness under its healthy lifestyle section. It advocates letting go of grudges and bitterness so you can have:

  • Healthier relationships
  • Improved mental health
  • Less anxiety, stress and hostility
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Fewer symptoms of depression
  • A stronger immune system
  • Improved heart health
  • Improved self-esteem

Sound good? Sure, but how do you actually live a healthy forgiveness lifestyle?

First, you decide you want to be a forgiving person.  Not everyone does. I have met people who seem to thrive on conflict and grudges. They appear to take immense satisfaction from judging and casting aspersions on those who don’t think or act like them. Some of us may be working on how to forgive those very people.

I, however, don’t like feeling bitter and resentful. I seem to have a low tolerance for unhappiness and am motivated to find ways to release negative emotions that haunt and hurt me. So I’ve learned the art of forgiveness.

Genuine forgiveness does a splendid job of calming us and facilitating serenity. We learn to accept the things we cannot change so we can move forward with courage, compassion, and creativity. Once we’ve experienced liberating, heart-felt forgiveness, we become motivated to apply our skills to all areas of our life. We are transformed.

Genuine forgiveness comes from the heart, but we must also use our head. The process of forgiving requires us to activate our rational brain. We become aware of survival instincts that shout at us to focus on negative information and define justice as revenge. This recognition allows us to quiet harmful messages and upshift to our cerebral cortex, the area where much of our information processing resides. We can then respond instead of react, reflect and seek understanding of whatever is bothering us.  We can decide whether our thoughts and behaviors are healthy or harmful. Our rational brain determines whether we will work on letting go of bitterness and resentment so we can experience the benefits of a forgiveness lifestyle.

If we decide we want to dispose of grudges and be gentler to ourselves and others, we need to seek connections that will support us and facilitate our growth. We know we’ve found the right connections if we find ourselves becoming kinder and less fearful, and if we feel we are being true to our authentic selves.

A forgiveness lifestyle means giving up whatever rewards we are receiving from being a victim and instead embracing our power to create a new story that showcases our courage and compassion. We’ll still get knocked down sometimes – that’s life – but we’ll have the skills and determination to get back up again.

Forgiving others often begins with forgiving ourselves. Sometimes we can’t acknowledge our mistakes because we believe that being vulnerable is dangerous. Professor and author Brene Brown said, “Vulnerability is not weakness. And that myth is profoundly dangerous.” Why is it dangerous? Because if we can’t take responsibility for our missteps, if we think that’s showing weakness, we deny ourselves a necessary part of our continuing transformation.

It’s also dangerous to become obsessed with our shortcomings. Regrets and shame will weigh us down and prevent us from evolving. The forgiveness lifestyle means learning from our mistakes, not dwelling on them. We give up our hope for a different past and refuse to use previous wrongdoings or failures as excuses to hide behind.

When we’re able to be compassionate with ourselves and realize we’re all doing the best we can, we will be able to use forgiving for giving to those we care about. Our burdens are lighter and our capacity to love expands.

This Thanksgiving, my family watched the recently released documentary “Gratitude Revealed.” The film reminded us to appreciate the beauty of nature through its glorious cinematography, and the resilience of the human spirit through the telling of inspirational stories. Gratitude is essential to a forgiveness lifestyle because it directs our perspective to the positive and provides the energy needed to deal with disappointment and pain. It’s not healthy to ignore the bad stuff in our lives, but it’s toxic to dwell on it.

Letting go of bitterness or shame gives us more time and energy for joy. Comedian Amy Schumer said, “We all accept too easily that life has to be hard and forget to make sure we have the most fun we can.”

I don’t think life is easy, but I agree with Amy that we have within us the power to make room for fun even when life is hard. We can make the decision to pursue a forgiveness lifestyle and get rid of burdens that prevent us from laughing, loving, and enjoying special moments.

During the holidays we can let ourselves feel the joy of whatever it is that lifts our spirits – be it Hallmark movies or documentaries, making cookies or buying cookies, caroling on or off key, shopping or refusing to shop – whatever fits your style. Let go of FOMO (fear of missing out) and embrace JOMO (joy of missing out). Don’t expect everyone to get along at holiday gatherings. I sometimes imagine myself in a situation comedy when conversations get weird. Perhaps the best thing I do is remember that our intentions are good, even if the results of our intentions aren’t.

A recipe for a happy holiday includes generosity – not of material gifts – but of grace. Huge helpings of forgiveness when reality falls short of expectations will lead to love and the reason for the season. Enjoy spending the holidays in style – forgiveness style.

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

The Gift of Humility: Holiday Stress Reliever

The holiday season can be stressful. I’d love to be able to host a delightful Christmas party, bake delicious cookies, make excellent gift choices, send inspiring cards, decorate like an interior design pro, and create world peace. However, I’m not capable of all of that and if I don’t reduce my expectations to a realistic level the “most wonderful time of the year” will become the most anxiety-ridden time of the year.

Seeing “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” on several festive decorations caused me to look up who wrote the song with that title. I found out it was written by two men – Edward Pola and George Wyle. I can’t confirm this, but I’m guessing they never worried about holiday baking, gifts, decorating, greetings, or event planning.

I wonder if Ed and George were ever concerned about being alone at Christmas or not being invited to holiday parties. For some of us, it’s the loneliest time of the year because it seems everyone has happy families and friends to party with . . . except us. We feel pressured to be happy and that makes us unhappy.

The lyrics of the song read like something out of a Hallmark movie, and I do enjoy Christmas shows now and then throughout the holiday season. I love gazing upon the perfectly decorated homes and neighborhoods in the movies. The characters always have some disagreements and misunderstandings, but I rest assured knowing all will be forgiven by the end of the show. Often an episode ends with a gorgeous couple taking a sleigh ride through something that’s supposed to look like snow, and I feel content knowing they will live happily ever after. But then I switch off the TV. The kind, beautiful people have vanished and it’s just me and my undone to-do list.

 I googled, “What is the most stressful time of the year?”  The holiday season was the overwhelming first choice. A OnePoll survey found that 88% of Americans thought holidays were the most stressful time of the year.

The holiday season comes when daylight hours are at a minimum, temperatures are icy, and spring seems way too far away. At this time of year, we need a holiday very badly to cheer us up, and that won’t happen if we’re too stressed. We need to be enjoying as many Hallmark moments as possible. That’s where humility comes in.

Some dictionaries list “meekness,” “unassertiveness,” and “submissiveness” as synonyms for humility. But spiritual humility is the opposite, because it means the willingness to accept, and the ability to clearly perceive, one’s strengths and weaknesses. It takes some daring to let go of the idea that we need to do all those things we think we should do, and instead discern what we are capable of based on who we genuinely are and what gives us joy. People may not approve.

Think about what you truly love about the holiday season and decide what helps you make the shortest daylight hours of the year more livable. Remember that you’ll be receiving all sorts of ads and messages about what you need for a Merry Christmas and ignore as many as possible.

Maya Angelou advised, “If you’re always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be.” That’s why humility is such a gift. Humility is accepting the ways we can’t meet society’s norms and rejoicing in the ways we can share our own unique gifts and talents. If we spend Christmas preparing treats for our dog and the squirrel that somehow found its way into our home, so be it.

The Japanese have a word, wabi-sabi, that means “finding beauty in imperfection and impermanence.” That isn’t an easy task because we want things to be perfect and may fear criticism and feel ashamed when we are unable to meet standards we believe are vital to belonging and respect. But I’ve found that an imperfect dinner or performance is just as satisfying as a perfect one when the people involved are filled with a joyful, loving spirit.

Humor can also help get us through a less than perfect holiday season. My mother had a plaque that I inherited with a saying that most likely helped her survive and thrive during many a holiday season. It read, “Blessed are we who can laugh at ourselves, for we shall never cease to be amused.”  Human beings are perfectly imperfect if we can be compassionate and take ourselves lightly. Laughter and humility are great companions and are all about the freedom of letting go and enjoying life – and the holiday season – in all its craziness.

There are many enticing holiday activity choices. But if I choose too many of them, it becomes like overeating. Sure, all the food is great, but the more I eat, the less delicious the food becomes. I need to choose what not to eat orI risk ruining what could be a very satisfying meal. During the holidays I need to realize I can only handle so much before I face diminishing returns.

We can choose what we want to worry about, too. Have you ever asked or been asked, “Are you ready for Christmas?”  When I’m asked that question, I answer, “I’m enjoying the beautiful lights and decorations as well as the music.” I want to delight in the holiday season, not prepare for a single day’s event.

I want to have the humility needed to be comfortable with the limitations of what I can cheerfully accomplish in the darkest weeks of the year. And I also want to do my part to spread light and warmth during a time that can seem bleak and cold. If I’m stressed and worried about being ready for Christmas and whether or not my Christmas will measure up to that of others, I may find myself on Santa’s naughty list with my inner Scrooge annoying those around me.

Humility truly is a gift to enjoy. The holiday season will very likely not go as planned and that’s just fine. Humility means letting go of expectations and opening up to the unexpected – to the mysteries and the magnificence of a holy time devoted to love and what’s beautiful about being human.

The most wonderful time of the year is whenever we can share our blessings generously, and gratefully rejoice in whatever kindnesses we are fortunate enough to receive.

Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash