It had been eating at her for days. How could he? How could he?! Barbed wire squeezed her heart. Her shoulders and neck ached. Anger blurred her vision. It was too much—too much! She knew she was going to have to do something.
She took a deep breath. It’s now or never. So, she did it. She went right up to her husband and said, “I forgive you.”
“For what, pooky-pants?” I said without looking up from my book.
She just shook her head and walked away. But you know what? She felt better. Loads better.
What’s my point? Forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself. Holding a grudge torments no one more than it torments you. It punishes no one more than it punishes you.
Don’t believe me? Here are five life-changing reasons why you should forgive quickly, forgive freely, and forgive indiscriminately.
1. You’ll Feel Better
“Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.”
– Oscar Wilde
My opening example with my wife wasn’t a metaphor to make a point. It’s a fact. When you let go of your grudges, you feel it. And it feels good.
Forgiveness leads to improved mental health, lowered levels of stress and anxiety, fewer symptoms of depression, and improved self-esteem. That’s right. When you forgive others, you actually feel better about yourself. You feel stronger and freer and more at peace.
You’ll have healthier relationships, too. Obviously, the relationships with people you easily forgive will be stronger, but this applies to all your relationships. This is because anger, bitterness, and resentment are almost never contained. Your negative emotions with one individual will seep—like black, poisonous smoke—into every relationship you have, including your relationship with yourself.
“The more you live a lifestyle of forgiving others, the less you will be affected by bitterness, grudges, and resentment. The more you give, the more you get.”
Everybody Needs to Forgive Somebody by Allen Hunt
2. You’ll Be Healthier
“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
Physiologically speaking, forgiveness is great for your health. It has been studied time and time again. The more you forgive, the healthier you’ll be. The other side of this coin is the damage that holding onto grudges can cause, which includes increased blood pressure, a weakened immune system, and decreased heart health.
This is because your brain is incapable of determining between real and imaginary threats. When you hold onto a grudge, as far as your brain is concerned, the event that led to your grudge-holding is still happening.
What does this mean? Let’s say a loved one betrays you. If you forgive him or her, your brain moves on. The event is done, in the past. The stress of that event is gone, and your body is relaxed and able to produce feel-good hormones like serotonin and oxytocin. There is no threat—no fight or flight stimuli. If you do not forgive, if you hold onto that grudge, it is as if at every moment of every day that betrayal is happening. A literal living hell. After all, a burn wound cannot heal in a fire.
3. Grudges Inhibit Your Awesomeness
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
It is impossible to be the-best-version-of-yourself while holding a grudge. It just is.
What does this mean? It means that as long as you’re clinging onto that grudge, you’re sprinting in sandals. You’re rowing with just one paddle. You’re social-media-ing without hashtags (#TheHorror!).
The emotional stress caused by holding onto a grudge actually causes you to make poorer decisions—which means things can snowball for you fairly quickly. Bad goes to worse and you may not even realize why.
Parts of your life that have nothing to do with your grudge will be impacted. Maybe you’ll attribute it to bad luck, but it has nothing to do with luck. It’s a choice.
You are choosing a-second-rate-version-of-yourself over the-best-version-of-yourself. You are choosing misery over happiness.
4. You’re Going to Mess Up, Too
“Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.”
– Bruce Lee
For those who know me (or at least have been in the car with me while I was driving) know that I have a bit of a road rage issue. When someone takes their jolly sweet time turning at a left arrow—because they were probably selfishly texting!—I get pretty rancorous. White-knuckled and blood pressure surging, I may even let fly a choice word or two that best not be repeated here. But if I am distracted at a light (it doesn’t happen often, but it does happen) and I am the problem, I am quick with an apologetic wave. If other drivers are upset at me, they are clearly overreacting at my minor snafu.
This is a weird phenomenon. When we are trespassed against, the trespasser is an absolute monster and must be stopped at all costs. When we do the trespassing, it’s just an honest mistake. Oopsy-daisy, my bad! Carry on. We judge others by their actions; we prefer to judge ourselves by our intentions.
This is called the Curse of Knowledge. When you take an obscene amount of time at the register because you’re paying for that latte with nickels (seriously!?), you give yourself the benefit of the doubt. You know the whole story because . . . well, it’s your story. When you’re in line behind someone doing the exact same thing, you are miffed. It’s obnoxious to you, because—from your limited perspective—the inconvenience is arbitrary and inexcusable. You don’t have the whole story.
There are some people who are able to see the big picture. They forgive quickly. They understand that everybody is dealing with something—that life is messy. And they always give others the benefit of the doubt, almost to a fault.
You know what they call these people? Happy.
5. You Are Influential!
“Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
This one is so important and so overlooked, the title demanded an exclamation mark. You know what? No. It demands three exclamation marks. Let’s try this again . . .
5. You Are Influential!!!
Yep. That feels right.
Because people notice what you are doing. Yes . . . you!
You have more influence on those around you than you think, especially if you have kids. If you are slow to forgive or if you hold onto grudges, it’s contagious. Others will not only be more likely to hold onto grudges toward you, but also do so with others as well.
Unconditional love is easier said than done. But each time we show mercy to others, we become more like Jesus.
— Dynamic Catholic (@DynamicCatholic) June 30, 2018
On the other hand, if you forgive quickly and openly, people notice. They will see how you’re healthier and happier—even if they can’t quite articulate why—and they will be attracted to it. They will try to emulate it.
You matter. I encourage you to act like it.
6. Forgiveness =/= Condoning
“Forgiving means to pardon that which is unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all."
– G.K. Chesterton
Many people struggle with this concept. They think that if they forgive someone for their heinous shenanigans, they are condoning said shenanigans. That’s not true.
Forgiveness, at its core, is simply the act of acknowledging another’s humanity. We are all flawed. Wonderfully imperfect. Sometimes maddeningly imperfect. Some of us are more maddeningly, imperfectly flawed than others (just ask my wife). But nothing is unforgivable. You don’t have to approve of the wrongdoing to show kindness and love toward the wrongdoer.
Oops. Looks like that was actually six life-changing reasons to forgive quickly, to forgive freely, and to forgive indiscriminately—not five.
I hope you’ll forgive me.
“To err is human; to forgive, divine.”
– Alexander Pope