Why Forgiveness Brings Joy
Forgiveness brings joy? Where did I come up with that, the skeptic might ask. Well, our forgiveness research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, since 1993, has shown that as people take the time to forgive others for deep injustices the following tends to happen for the forgiver: lower anger, anxiety, and depression, and higher self-esteem and hope for the future. Are these fancy psychological ways of saying, “My joy has increased”?
Maybe not. Perhaps there is much more to forgiveness than a change in one’s emotions and in one’s perceptions of the self. In reflecting on this issue lately I have come to a new conclusion: Forgiveness brings joy because of what the future holds for those who routinely forgive as part of The Forgiving Life.
Here is what I mean. When we forgive and make it a part of our very being, we start to give a high priority to love in our relationships. By love, I mean the kind that is in service to other people for their good. We first love through forgiveness by looking back, by seeing who was back there in our past to make us miserable, and we respond by trying to love them, not for what they did, but in spite of this.
Eventually, we realize that not only can we go back to our past and love those who may not have loved us but also we realize that we can bring that love into the present. We can exercise this love-as-service-to-others not only toward those who have offended us, but also to all whom we meet today. We can smile at the person who looks lonely as we pass him or her on the street. We can offer kindness to a co-worker. We can love.
Even more eventually, we come to realize that our future is very, very bright. When we get up in the morning, our way of relating is through love. And it will be that way tomorrow and a hundred tomorrows from now. We have learned to love and it is now part of us, regardless of the injustices we might face.
Forgiveness may bring joy when we have some emotional relief from others’ unfairness. Forgiveness brings more decided joy when we live a life of love. Try it. You can’t wait to get up in the morning once you live life through the lens of future forgiveness.