I’ve noticed lately, that I have been taking stock of reasons to be happy. I’ve been writing a gratitude list every morning for about a decade now. But something else has taken hold. I’ll be minding my own business, working, or driving home, or just watching my kids play, and I’ll notice that happy feeling again. I’ll start to take note of a few things that happened lately, or that I always had, and notice that I’m happy. This what happens when I take an inventory of reasons to be happy.
Over the last 24 hours, I’ve been thinking about all that, and one other thing. I’ve noticed that during at least the last 10 years, my “forgiveness capacity” has grown, too. I have just noticed that my capacity to forgive people, for whatever slights, mistakes and what have you, I think that they may have done to me, has grown significantly over time. I think for me, that came from becoming sober, a worker, a husband and a father. Forgive them for they know not what they do, right?
I have also been thinking of all of the people that I have forgiven. I can name a few. Old school adversaries. Managers that I didn’t like. Women I met along the way who decided I wasn’t for them. The list goes on and on, but who has the time?
And then I imagine what my life might be like if I never forgave anyone. I imagine what my life might be like if I made space for those people, planning retribution, keeping a list, keeping score, logging “victories” against those people. I know someone who was slighted by another, and he waited more than 20 years to exact his revenge. All of that takes up space in the mind. Space that we can use to do something better.
So I dug a little deeper on this idea, that forgiveness frees up space in my mind. I forgive you not just for you, but for me, too. I forgive you so that I can use that space in my mind for something better. Forgiveness is an act of surrender of the highest order. I surrender my resentments for something better.
Most of us have been trained to think of surrender as defeat. I was like that, once, so long ago. But after months and even years of numerous travails, missteps, and costly mistakes, I finally learned that surrender is not defeat, it is a trade off.
And as I look back on my life, I noticed that over time, as I learned to forgive those who trespassed against me, I had more room for happiness. I can see a definite concurrence of trends. The more I forgave, the happier I became. Of course, I was also working on myself, noticing my wrongs, righting them, making amends for them. But those countless acts of forgiveness…
Even now, in the present day, I perform many tiny acts of forgiveness. At bedtime, my kids ignored me. My wife ignored me. Nobody did what I asked them to do. People ask me for things that I don’t have the time to do for them. Someone snaked me in the parking lot at Costco. Someone cut in front of me and tapped the breaks through a yellow light. I get another robocall. I had to spend hours dealing with a debt collector who wasn’t willing to talk with the creditor and do the digging for the records that would vindicate me — who will pay me for my time? I forgave all of them in a short period of a week, a day, an hour, a minute. The need for forgiveness is constant and really, it never ends.
But I know that if I don’t forgive, my mind will be so filled with resentment, I will have lost a significant amount of capacity, that space in my mind that I need, to be happy. Now I could say, “let them see the natural consequences of their actions”, but even that is not forgiveness. To all those other people outside of me, I say, “It is not your job to make me happy. You don’t have to change for me, change is automatic.”
Forgiveness is like doing laundry, paying the bills, mowing the lawn, and filling the car with gas. That process never ends, and we don’t know how to stop. Forgiveness is maintenance for the mind. I practice forgiveness until it becomes an art.
Now this isn’t to say that I must outwardly support or even approve of bad behavior while I’m thinking the other way. I am honest in my appraisal of people, or I hold my tongue. If I can’t say something nice, I don’t say it. I think if you’re not subject to criticism, you’re probably doing it wrong anyway. But all of that is backsliding, it’s not really forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not noticing someone else’s mistake and feeling better than them. Forgiveness, as mental maintenance is clearing the mind to maintain the capacity to do better. Maintain a sense of humor, maintaining a willingness to help, to teach, to instruct, to demonstrate love. Yeah. Forgiveness is a demonstration of love, too.
For me, that awareness of forgiveness, as a verb, as an act, as mental maintenance, has increased my capacity to love my family, my neighbors, my humanity. For I am just as much yours as you are mine in the brotherhood of man. I have seen that every act of forgiveness has directly and positively impacted my capacity to be happy. A life without forgiveness is a life full of resentment, and it’s just not possible for resentment and happiness to be in the same room together. I’ve tried it and it doesn’t work. One of them has to go.
I forgive others so that I may be happy again. I just don’t see any other, better, way.