Learning to Forgive

June 25, 2009

The next intentional activity from The How of Happiness is learning to forgive.  Recall from my earlier blog that it’s these intentional activities and habits that can account for as much as 40% of our happiness.  The first intentional activity was expressing gratitude, the second was deliberate optimism, the third was to stop overthinking and comparing ourselves to others, the fourth was practicing acts of kindness, the fifth was social support, and the sixth was coping with stress.

Forgiveness “involves suppressing or mitigating one’s motivations for avoidance and revenge (which often bring with them accompanying emotions of anger, disappointment, and hostility), and, ideally, replacing them with more positive or benevolent attitudes, feelings, and behaviors” (p. 170).  Forgiveness does not mean that we excuse or forget the transgression that violated our trust, it simply means we have accounted for it and are moving on with a renegotiated relationship. 

Forgiveness is something we do for ourselves, not for the folks that wrong us.  There is a lot of evidence to show forgiveness is associated with health, happiness, and other benefits.  In my own research, my colleagues and I found that revenge behavior was significantly and negatively related to the health of leaders we studied. In our study, taking revenge impacted leader health more than engagement, forgiveness, and burnout (Little, Simmons, & Nelson, 2007).

When people violate your trust at work, don’t ruminate and don’t take revenge.  Give yourself time to deal with the negative emotions and cognitive dissonance caused by the transgression, and then find a way to move on.  If the relationship with the individual is necessary or cannot be replaced, then you are going to have to find a way to talk with them to renegotiate “where we go from here”.  If the relationship can be replaced, then shake the dust off your feet and move on.

Don’t hold grudges.  Don’t get even.  Address it, incorporate what you learned about the individual into a revised relationship, and then press on.

If you are focused on excellence, you will have to become VERY good at forgiving all those folks that want to hold you back and force you to conform to their safe and comfortable mediocrity.

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