Tis the season for gratitude and Thanks-giving. And it’s also a good time to practice forgiveness. Both forgiveness and gratitude have been linked to enhanced happiness and well-being. While practicing forgiveness can be a process that takes effort, daily gratitude practices can be relatively easy to accomplish.
The Freedom of Forgiveness
Throughout life, we experience disappointments and hurts both big and small. But when we are unable to forgive, we hold on to the negative feelings – keeping us stuck. Not forgiving someone essentially keeps us locked in an emotional prison, tied to the person or event.
You may think that by holding a grudge or resentment you are “making them pay,” but in reality the person who is really being affected is you. From negative thoughts to physical illness, I have seen many patients whose emotional toxicity has been a significant obstacle in their path to wellness.
Like Nelson Mandela once said, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” When you are finally able to forgive, releasing the attachment to the wounded feelings, it is like unlocking the prison door—and the person being set free is not the other person, but you.
Research on forgiveness has shown that learning to forgive reduces the amount of hurt, anger, stress, and depression that people experience. As you stop replaying the negative story, releasing bitterness, anger, resentment, and remorse, your brain is freed up to focus on more positive thoughts and relationships. People become more hopeful, optimistic, and compassionate and notice improved physical health as well.
So with all of these benefits, why is it so hard? Forgiveness is not about forgetting what happened. It isn’t about justifying or condoning what the other person did or making someone else apologize or change. It is about your decision to let go of the impact of the event, setting yourself free from the emotional trigger so that you can move forward on your own terms. It is about finding peace and understanding. It is about changing the tone of your story, shifting from focusing on the hurt feelings that gives power to the other person who you perceived as causing your pain and instead opening up to the lessons, kindness, and love that can restore your personal power and strength.
It is about changing the tone of your story, shifting from focusing on the hurt feelings that gives power to the other person who you perceived as causing your pain and instead opening up to the lessons, kindness, and love that can restore your personal power and strength.
There are many ways to practice forgiveness and some people find working with a counselor or therapist to be helpful. When you are ready to let go of your emotional pain to set yourself free, I encourage you to embark on an emotional detox by practicing forgiveness.
The Gift of Gratitude
Like forgiveness, those who practice gratitude regularly experience an increase in joy, happiness, and overall satisfaction with their lives. In addition, research has shown potential health benefits: the ability to manage stress better; improved sleep, energy, and immune function; reduced inflammation; and improved heart health markers.
A gratitude practice also can help mitigate isolation and loneliness which have been linked to increased health problems and higher mortality. When we think about what we appreciate or are thankful for, we amplify positive memories and recruit other positive emotions that can favorably affect our physical and mental well-being.
In addition, research has shown that when we think about what we are grateful for, we trigger the calming part of the nervous system (parasympathetic nervous system), which can also have positive health effects.
Take time to notice and reflect upon things that you are thankful for. You may want to keep a gratitude journal and write in it regularly. Choose a time that works for you to journal daily and commit to doing it. You don’t need to drag out the practice for a long time, but aim to practice gratitude consistently. Try to notice new things that you are grateful for each day and get specific.
Instead of just writing “I’m grateful for my family” over and over, think of something in particular about your family members such as, “My daughter stopped playing on her computer to give me a hug when she knew I was upset” or “My husband picked up dinner to give me a break.” When we expand our awareness of the gifts in our life, we create a network of positive feelings and thoughts creating a ripple effect of health and well-being.
Do you do better with prompts? This journal has different prompts for each day to get your gratitude juices flowing.
Tips to Practice Gratitude and Forgiveness:
• Practice gratitude daily by noticing what you are grateful for. Writing down what you are grateful for in a journal can be even more effective.
• If you recognize that you are holding on to emotional pain from a past event that is keeping you stuck, consider taking steps to free yourself of mental toxicity.
I highly recommend Forgive for Good by Dr. Fred Luskin for anyone who wants to embark on the journey of forgiveness.
This blog post includes tips and information from my book Resilient Health: How to Thrive in Our Toxic World.