Forgiveness: A Stepping Stone to Joy

Buddha statue with text that reads "holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else, you are the one getting burned."

Forgiveness: A Stepping Stone to Joy

Forgiveness is critical in the creation of joy. When we do not forgive, we are harboring resentments and anger. Learning to forgive is an act of love for yourself. We have all heard that we don’t forgive someone for them, we forgive for us. Holding onto grudges towards another will only tear you apart bit by bit.

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burned.”

Dr. Fred Luskin of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project defines forgiveness as “the feeling of peace that emerges as you take your hurt less personally, take responsibility for how you feel and become a hero instead of a victim in the story that you tell. Forgiveness is the experience of peacefulness in the present moment.”

I love this definition of forgiveness for a few reasons. First, it states that we need to take responsibility for how we feel. We are not responsible for what others do to us, but we can take responsibility for our reaction and for how we let it affect us. Second, I love the concept of being a hero rather than a victim. People who practice forgiveness are heroes. There is a story that comes to mind of a woman who was critically injured many years ago when a teenager threw a frozen turkey through her windshield. This happened near where I live. Everyone was shocked and upset by this incident. Every bone in her face was crushed. This woman, Victoria Ruvolo endured endless surgeries and horrible pain. Yet at the hearing for the young man who did this to her, she pleaded for his leniency. She forgave him. In an interview in the Daily News she stated, “If I hadn’t let go of that anger, I’d be consumed by this need for revenge. Forgiving him helps me move on.” She didn’t ask to be a hero. She didn’t want this horrible experience, but in many ways, it came to define the person that she is. She has woven this into her life and now she serves as an inspiration to others.

During the course of our lives, we are going to be hurt and we are going to inflict some hurt too. We aren’t going to get out of this life completely unscathed. People are imperfect and will do things that affect others in a negative way. It is hard to be on the receiving end of these hurts. It is also hard to know you’ve hurt another. We want to know that we will be forgiven for what we’ve done wrong. If we don’t learn how to forgive others and ourselves we will have a very hard time being happy or joyful.

We all have those stories of hurt that we can tell. The hurt can seem as fresh as if it just happened even if it was many years ago. We hold onto these stories and the hurt and resentment that go along with them. They can become part of our identity and they even affect our other relationships.

Learning to let go is an important step toward being a more joyful person. Forgiveness does not mean reconciling with someone who has wronged you. They don’t even have to know about your forgiveness of them if you don’t want to contact the person. When we forgive we make a decision to not let our feelings of anger dominate our thoughts. We choose to accept that whatever happened, happened. We can try to understand where the person was in their life that caused them to hurt us. In this way, we develop compassion for them. Compassion is required for forgiveness. As we understand the other person and why they did what they did, we are able to forgive the wounded part of them that caused us pain. And then we make a decision to let it go – to keep it in the past where it belongs. It is this decision, to forgive, which sets us free and allows us to live joyfully.