“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