Have you ever been hurt? Probably so. I think that it’s the rare person who makes it through life without feeling that someone has done them wrong at some point.
This series of columns is intended to provide suggestions to help you bring more happiness into your life. Some of the information I’m drawing on comes from Dr. Joel Wade’s book, “Mastering Happiness.”
Dr. Wade suggests that practicing forgiveness can help you become happier.
Let’s say you experienced a hurtful incident, perhaps recently or perhaps long ago. Perhaps it was done intentionally or inadvertently. Maybe everyone knows about it, or maybe only you are aware of it.
No matter. You feel hurt.
Is it helpful to keep the hurt alive? To keep the grudge fresh? To keep reliving the event? To stay angry? Or is it helpful to let it go?
It’s popular to believe that we need to work through and come to terms with something that has hurt us. Some folks spend a lot of time reliving unhappiness. Over and over, they question, “Why did this happen to me? If I could only understand it, maybe I could make my life whole, as if the hurtful event never, ever happened.”
But it did.
You were wronged. Or, at least, you perceive that you were wronged. Your feelings of hurt, injustice, or humiliation may be related to actions by your parents, your siblings, your teachers, your lovers, your friends, your neighbours, your bosses, your co-workers, you name it.
Or perhaps the source of your hurt is someone who has no connection to you, perhaps you were hurt by a criminal. You may even perceive that an entire culture or society has hurt you.
Dr. Wade says, “…truly awful events will affect you for the rest of your life. They will never cease to have happened, but they will fade in intensity as time passes – unless you keep those awful events alive in the present by holding a grudge.”
Given that you have been hurt and you want to create a happier life, try asking yourself: “Am I learning anything by going over those events? Or is dwelling on them just keeping them fresh in my mind?”
If thinking about it helps you learn (gain understanding, develop compassion, come up with more effective behaviours) then it may be helpful.
However, if thinking about the hurt simply keeps the pain fresh and alive for you, then it may be time to try something different!
Dr. Wade’s suggestion is to accept that what happened did, indeed, happen. Then do everything you can to avoid carrying a grudge.
Perhaps there’s appropriate action to take as a result of your hurt. An action might be to initiate a conversation or make a change. If so, define the action and do it—if it will make things better, not worse.
Perhaps you believe there’s no action to take. Then choosing to forgive—if you are able to genuinely do so—might help to increase your happiness. You don’t have to tell anyone that you’ve forgiven them, nor does it let them off the hook. Forgiveness is an internal process that may help you release a grudge.
Last time, I suggested that one practice to increase happiness is to express gratitude. This time, my suggestion is to avoid feeding your hurts. Do you think dropping grudges helps happiness?