If we keep our hearts open and let our trust grow, of course we are more likely to get hurt. We are also more likely to experience life more fully, with a vibrancy that otherwise would not exist. Writing a forgiveness letter is one way to let more love into our lives by letting go of our grievances and embracing our own happiness instead.
The less anger we hold in our hearts—towards others, ourselves, or life—the more capable we are of loving the present.
Many studies point to the link between forgiveness and happiness. In this course (which the theme of this post is based on), one study in particular was mentioned. Participants who were hurt by a negative interpersonal experience, and who were assigned to a forgiveness condition (with training in forgiveness methods), fared better than those who did not receive any forgiveness training. Anxiety levels dropped and self-esteem levels improved significantly.
Writing a forgiveness letter is an effective method for retaining our own peace and happiness in the face of any wrongdoing. It’s a tool for keeping our hearts open and trusting, for love and trust are two important factors of happiness (science also shows this is so). It’s a reminder that we don’t need to feel morally superior to anyone, for superiority is not an effective approach to living a happy and fulfilled life.
May forgiveness make you feel grateful that you feel abundant enough to be able to forgive, and to not fuel anymore negativity or further hurt. May the following practice allow you the attitude of forgiveness towards those who might have cheated you.
Writing a Forgiveness Letter
Writing a letter of forgiveness is a difficult exercise to begin, for it’s not always easy to let go of the anger we feel. Yet, as numerous findings show, holding on to anger and resentment hurts us more than it hurts the other person. If it helps, think of this exercise as purely for your own good—one that will help you feel better and move forward.
This exercise, which involves three main steps, involves writing—but not sending—a letter of forgiveness.
Step 1: Recall the incident.
In this step, your task is to recall the incident that caused you harm or pain and then write about it.
Don’t spend too much time wallowing in the negative emotions that the incident evokes in you. Try to approach this step with a matter-of-fact manner. Write down details of the events that transpired, how it made you feel, and why. If the event continues to hurt you, mention why and state what you wish the person had done instead.
Step 2: Write your letter of forgiveness.
In this step, your task is to write a letter in which you first reflect on what you wrote about in Step 1, and then elaborate on the factors that might have pressured the person who wronged you to act in the way that they did. For example, perhaps this person was going through a particularly rough time at work. Perhaps he was misinformed by someone else. Perhaps they were unaware of their own desire to be jealous, hurtful, or spiteful.
We all have a deep-seated desire to love and give. When others cheat us, it’s conducive to our happiness to try to empathize with why they may have felt compelled to cause hurt. What circumstances could have led them to do harm? If they were truly, deeply happy, they would not wish to harm anyone.
Come up with a set of explanations (on behalf of the wrong-doer) to allow you to end your letter with the following sentence, which is the final step…
Step 3: Write your closing sentence.
You first described what happened and why it hurt you. You then moved on to describing why the person may have behaved the way they did. Now, end with this sentence:
“I realize now that what you did was the best you could at that time, and I forgive you.”
This step involves achieving something known as “psychological closure,” which is a sort of mental marker that symbolizes that the event is closed, which makes it easier to move on. Perhaps the best way to achieve the psychological closure is to print out a hard copy of letter that you wrote, seal it in an envelope, and then either burn it or throw it away.
As you do this, remind yourself, “With this act, I consider this incident closed.”
Findings show that achieving psychological closure helps lower the tendency to dwell on past hurtful events. You are making the choice to release your offender from the spiritual debt you feel they owe you so you can invest your energy and attention more wisely to benefit your life. You instead choose to invest in love and laughter, compassion and peace of mind. And your life will feel richer.
Writing a forgiveness letter can be a daunting task. It may be easier to try this exercise first for something which you don’t feel quite as strongly about. Starting with an “easy” forgiveness exercise, as Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky notes in her book, The How of Happiness, might make it easier to move on to more difficult cases over time.
You may also be interested in this five-step approach to forgiving others.
- Are you open to writing a forgiveness letter?
- Are you at least willing to forgive, even if you don’t feel like you can in this very moment?
- Have you forgiven in the past and felt the lightness that it brings?
Please share your own thoughts, forgiveness tools and practices, lessons, and experiences with me in the comments.
Share this post with someone you care about.
Forgiveness is a gift to yourself.