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Can You Forgive?

May 26, 2008
To forgive is the highest, most beautiful form of love. In return, you will receive untold peace and happiness. --Robert Mueller, Former Assistant Secretary General to the United Nations

Forgiveness is one of the 21 core habits of unconditionally happy people I discovered through my research for my book, Happy for No Reason: 7 Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out. The reality is whether the trespass against you is big or small, you can't be truly happy until you forgive.

I once had a neighbor who was always yelling about something. My garbage cans were too close to her driveway. People parked their cars in front of her house. The neighborhood dogs were digging in her garden.

Understandably, she wasn't my favorite person. One afternoon, I heard an ambulance coming down the street. I looked out my window and saw it turn into her driveway. The paramedics loaded the woman into the vehicle and, lights flashing, took off for the hospital. That day I found out my neighbor was a very sick woman; she had a serious liver disease, chronic back problems, and lived every day of her life in constant and excruciating pain. My anger at her disappeared instantly. When she came back from the hospital until she died a year and a half later, I not only felt differently toward her, I found myself doing anything I could to help her.

When you understand the suffering of others, like magic, it transforms your negative feelings into compassion, and sets the stage for forgiveness to occur.

If you thinks this sounds great, but are wondering how to let go and forgive, you've already cleared a big hurdle -- just being willing to consider forgiveness is sometimes the hardest part.

Here is a powerful exercise that can guide you through the forgiveness process:

Forgiveness Exercise

1. Sit someplace where you will not be disturbed.

2. Close your eyes and think of someone you are holding anger, hatred, or resentment toward in your heart.

3. Take a couple of deep breaths and let yourself feel your feelings without having to do anything about them. Just notice them.

4. Now, realize that the person's hurtful action can't be changed. It's in the past and there is absolutely nothing that can be done to affect it now. Feel the finality of that.

5. Also realize that this person may never change. They are the way they are. Take a few deep breaths as you accept the truth of that.

6. Now, see that the person is the way they are -- and did whatever they did -- because they have some pain, some lack, some woundedness. They may not even realize it themselves, but it's there. People only hurt others because they are hurt themselves. See them through the eyes of compassion for their own suffering. Imagine they are a child that is hurting, lashing out at others in their own pain. Can you feel compassion for them?

7. Sit quietly for a minute or two more, just feeling the expansion that compassion -- in any amount -- brings to the heart.

It's okay if you still feel angry; the purpose of this exercise is to begin to release the pain in your heart, not to excuse anyone for their actions. Keep repeating this exercise until you feel a shift, however small, in your heart. Your forgiveness will grow as you feel more compassion, leading you to greater and greater experiences of being Happy for No Reason.

(Excerpted from the New York Times bestseller, Happy from No Reason: 7 Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out, Free Press, January 2008, and reprinted with permission of the author, Marci Shimoff).
About the Author
Marci Shimoff is author of the new book Happy for No Reason: 7 Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out; plus Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul and Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul, making her one of the bestselling female nonfiction authors of all time. She's also a featured teacher in the international film and book phenomenon, The Secret. Visit Happy for No Reason.
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