Does kindness REALLY make us happy?
In brief. Yes. Experts have been studying the science of kindness for decades and much has been written about the benefits of being kind. Kindness makes us feel good, mentally and physically. Read on...
At some point in your life, someone has or will wrong you. They will do something you don't like or agree with. Was it the incident of bullying in primary school or the lover who left you for another? Maybe it wasn't the action itself, but the deceit. Whatever it is, or was, it will hurt. It's a deep feeling that lurches. It will cause you to tell the person who wronged you that you will never forgive them.
But forgiveness is the only way to bring light into your life. Forgiveness transforms anger and hurt into healing and peace. Forgiveness can help you overcome feelings of depression, anxiety, and rage, as well as personal and relational conflicts.
But it is about making the conscious decision to let go of a grudge. It is not about letting someone off the hook for a wrongdoing, or forgetting about the past, or forgetting about the pain. It certainly does not mean that you stick around for future maltreatment from a boss, a partner, parent, or friend. It is about setting yourself free so that you can move forward in your own life.
Anne Lamott famously declared, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a different past.”
Besides the reward of letting go of a painful past, there are powerful health benefits that go hand-in-hand with the practice of forgiveness. Physically, forgiveness is associated with lower heart rate and blood pressure as well as overall stress relief. It is also associated with improving physical symptoms, reducing fatigue in some patient populations, and improving sleep quality. Mentally, forgiveness has been shown to diminish the experience of stress and inner conflict while simultaneously restoring positive thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.
The problem for many of us is that sometimes we can choose to forgive another, but still in our heart of hearts, the anger or resentment lingers. Although at times this may seem implausible, forgiveness is a teachable and learnable skill that can dramatically improve with practice over time. Here is a strategy pulled together by a psychologist and some leading researchers:
1. Inquire deeply about the root of your anger or grudge. Look at the situation honestly, without embellishing or rearranging the details. Pay attention to how this anger is holding you back and keeping you hostage in your own day-to-day existence.
2. Review your grievance story and reengineer that story so you see yourself in a more empowered way. Perhaps you chose to disengage or limit your time spent with a friend or family member that has consistently been hurtful to you. Perhaps you left a toxic partner. You had the fortitude to leave a bad situation. You were indeed the survivor and hero in your own story. Look at the strengths that you developed as a result of this situation. Being hurt or compromised can be your invitation to a transformative new path and a more fulfilling life.
3. Develop your capacity for empathy and compassion for yourself for landing in a painful situation. Blaming yourself for not seeing the signs sooner doesn’t help, and slows down the process of making change. Also, in my professional experience, usually abusers have been abused themselves, and they are operating at a deficit. Without accepting their hostile behaviors, try to understand the pain and suffering that he or she must be enduring. You can understand and forgive without accepting bad or abusive behavior.
4. Create new associations with your old story of neglect or abuse. Perhaps you can practice a ritual that signifies the end of things as they were and say goodbye to the past as you once experienced it. Welcome the good, the support, and the love that you now invite into your life. Light a candle, for example, to symbolize the brightness of the moment and the days ahead, or gather some friend to celebrate the end of an era and the beginning of a new phase of life.
Remember that you cannot control others, but you can control your own choices. Be the hero of YOUR story.