The Importance of Forgiveness: Reasons and How to Do It
Forgiveness may be difficult, but this guide can help you
Forgiving someone isn’t always a quick and easy task. In fact, sometimes it feels like forgiveness can be impossible in certain instances. But a recent scientific study shows that the ability to forgive others may be linked to greater life satisfaction.
A group of Polish researchers gathered a sample of 436 adults and divided them into age groups. Each group was given the same questionnaire, designed to determine each person’s tendency towards forgiveness and also their overall life satisfaction.
What the researchers found was that, despite any differences in age, those who were more likely to forgive almost always experienced greater life satisfaction.
As the researchers themselves put it, “General forgiveness correlated positively and significantly with a rewarding life for the entire sample.”
So, if science says it’s better for our health to be forgiving, the question is...how do we forgive?
The Five “Forgiveness Factors”
These five factors will help you understand what it takes to truly forgive someone. We’ll go through each of them in detail, so you can put yourself on the path to becoming a more forgiving person—and consequently improving your overall satisfaction.
♦ Perspective – being able to frame your distress in the “big picture”
♦ Empathy – the ability to put yourself in the other person’s shoes
♦ Self-Awareness – knowing how your actions affect you and others around you
♦ Compassion – being able to process your pain with sympathy
♦ Understanding – looking at all sides of a conflict, not just your own
To really put yourself in the mindset of forgiveness, think back to a past grievance or a time when someone caused you pain or distress. As you think about this experience, try applying the five forgiveness factors to your specific person or event.
Think about how the particular grievance you’re considering has affected your entire life to this point. Have you been able to move on from the initial pain or distress? Has your life improved since that time? Are you still bothered by the events that took place?
Your answers will be different, depending on how long it’s been, how severe the grievance was, or how the experience affected you personally. It’s important to take a step back and see if you’re ready to forgive.
If the event is still too fresh, you might need more time. But conversely, you might be surprised by how small the grievance seems in hindsight.
Research out of Vanderbilt University suggests that empathy may be as easy as literally imagining yourself in someone else’s shoes.
Consider how the other person may have felt at the time they made you upset. Maybe they were having a bad day, or maybe they felt that what they did was justified for some reason.
It’s important to remember that you can never truly know how another person is feeling or thinking. Trying to comprehend what led someone else to their actions can often motivate you to forgive them.
Just as it’s important to consider what caused the other person’s actions, it’s equally crucial to look at yourself and understand your own feelings.
Is there a particular reason why you felt hurt? Maybe there’s a reason you’ve been hesitant to forgive this person in the past.
Even if you feel you’re not at fault, your own thoughts or emotions could be the root cause keeping you from forgiveness. Sometimes forgiving someone requires taking yourself out of your comfort zone, so a little self-exploration can go a long way.
Once you understand why you were hurt, you can begin to process your way through the pain and get yourself ready for forgiveness.
Compassion is often defined as a concern for the pain or discomfort of others, but it can also apply to yourself. Compassion fuels a desire to make sure the same pain or suffering does not happen again, and it’s an important part of the forgiving process.
Before you can truly forgive someone, you have to make the decision for yourself.
And finally, the culmination of the other four forgiveness factors—understanding is what you’ll experience when you’re really ready to forgive. Understanding is the combination of putting your pain in perspective, empathizing with the other side of the story, recognizing your own thoughts and emotions, and desiring to prevent future distress.
Once you understand the full nature of what was bothering you, you’ll be ready to extend forgiveness.
Now, no one is saying that forgiveness is easy. Even with a few guidelines to help you on your journey to being a more forgiving person, it can be a difficult task. The reality is, only you can decide when and how to forgive someone. It has to be important to you.
It’s true that being willing to forgive people can improve your overall satisfaction with life. But forgiveness is not something that can be forced.
If you’re only looking to forgive someone for the sake of your own happiness, it probably won’t be as satisfying as you’d like. The true satisfaction comes from two sides—your own personal emotions and the feelings of the other person.
Disregarding them and only doling out forgiveness for your own benefit defeats the entire purpose.
Hopefully this information helps you open yourself up to becoming more forgiving. The world in general is a better place when we are all able to put aside past differences and move forward together.
If you’re having a hard time approaching someone to offer forgiveness, try thinking about smaller grievances first. It may be easier for you to start small, by forgiving someone for a more minor event, and then work your way up to the bigger issues.
The Natural Conclusion
As many experts have pointed out, becoming a more forgiving person doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a conscious effort and a desire to improve yourself so you can help improve those around you.
But once you get into the mindset of forgiving, you may find it brightens your entire outlook on life. That’s the power of forgiveness, as proven by science!
So the next time you think about holding a grudge, reconsider, and try turning the other cheek. Your overall satisfaction will thank you for it!