We all have things we need to forgive – whether it’s someone who has hurt us or ourselves when we’ve made mistakes. But how do we define forgiving? What does happiness really mean? And can forgiveness really be a tool that makes us happy?

Defining forgiveness involves more than the act of pardoning or excusing an offense, especially one considered to have been committed against us or those who are important to us. Forgiveness means different things to different people. For some, it’s about letting go; for others, it’s about understanding why someone did what they did. And forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting or ignoring what happened, but rather recognizing that we have the power to choose how we want to respond to whatever transpired between us and another person. It is also a way to release another from any obligation and as such is seen as a virtue in many religions, including Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam.

We’ve all heard the adage, “forgive and forget.”

But forgiveness isn’t about forgetting. It’s about letting go of the anger that keeps you stuck in regret.

It’s all too easy to get stuck in a cycle of blame, hurt and bitterness when someone hurts us. We may even find ourselves obsessing over how they wronged us and how they ruined our lives. But the truth is, we can’t change what happened in the past. And dwelling on it will only make us miserable now.

But it’s more than this. If we try to define the act of forgiving, and what happiness means generically, we can find that they are linked in many ways. But before we look at how they’re linked, we need to try to have some sort of comprehension of what happiness is and why we all seem to be in an endless pursuit of it.

So what the heck is happiness? What does it mean to live a happy life? It is certainly an idea that’s hard to pin down. Since happiness is purely subjective, it’s almost impossible to define or to measure it. Even if we don’t quite know what it is, we most certainly want it. Everyone dreams of having a happy life, and we all do our very best to organize life with happiness in mind.

Apparently, 10% of happiness is attributable to wealth and ownership of things; our upbringing and how we were parented accounts for another 40%, and the remaining 50% is said to depend on our world view, our beliefs, and attitudes, and how we process our emotions. That’s the part that is most easily transformed when one adopts the Radical Forgiveness philosophy. When you read the book, The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama and note his prescription for what he says will lead you to genuine happiness, you realize it is no different from what Radical Forgiveness prescribes.

Forgiveness can be seen as the process through which a victim begins to come to terms with an undeserved experience, by forgiving those who have caused harm in order to prevent further suffering or heal wounds. The difference between traditional forgiveness and Radical Forgiveness is that we move ourselves from the state of victimhood – by reframing the original story – to a state of grace and absolution that creates a new relationship with the offender. That’s the key link between that and being happy… When you forgive, you are putting the past behind you and taking control of your future by making choices that will improve your life today – through which you can increase your chances of being happier. For example, if your partner has cheated on you but then begged for forgiveness, they might expect that things return to normal immediately. But if you choose not to forgive them right away, and instead work on improving yourself first, and practicing radical forgiveness, you can empower yourself. You will develop more confidence in yourself, as well as your relationship with them, in the future.

Forgiveness works for the one who has been offended, violated, betrayed or abused – and is not done for the benefit of the perpetrator. Both traditional forgiveness and radical forgiveness call for compassion and empathy. They require us to try to understand situations and understand the motivations of other people and why they did what they did to us. But traditional forgiveness doesn’t really work in terms of promoting happiness, because it takes a long time, and you have no control over the process and feelings of anger and resentment can remain, even if the victim thinks they have forgiven the perpetrator:

I have been victimized and you are the victimizer and I am damaged and I can’t let it go because you have caused me to be unhappy for the rest of my life because of what you did to me, even though I am trying to forgive you”.

Radical Forgiveness works because you don’t have to confront your perpetrator if you don’t want to, it’s instantaneous, easy to do through the step- by-step process and rests upon the following principle:

that everything that happens to us, actually happens for us—in the sense that there’s a reason for everything that happens. There’s a spiritual purpose in everything and if we just open to the possibility that happens in our life is divinely guided, then something happens energetically to us that brings us a spiritual gift of peace”.

You work through the lessons, utilize the tools, and develop the skills to forgive. In so doing, you empower yourself to be relieved and released from pain. You gain the freedom to be happy and at peace.  And you can use it in whatever scenario you need to.

Radical Forgiveness can make us happier because:

  1. It allows us to free ourselves from negative emotions such as resentment, anger, and guilt so that we can focus on living our lives fully without having those past experiences continue to haunt us in unhealthy ways.
  2. It helps us improve our relationships with others, by letting them know we do not hold grudges against them.
  3. Releasing negative emotions, like anger and bitterness, frees up more energy for positive emotions like love and joy.
  4. Following the steps of Radical Forgiveness empowers you, to help you gain back self-worth.
  5. Radical Forgiveness teaches us to look at ourselves and understand that things happen for us – we need to learn from this and focus on looking forwards, rather than on the past.

As the Dalai Lama says,

“When you think everything is someone else’s fault, you will suffer a lot. When you realize that everything springs only from yourself, you will learn both peace and joy.”

Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness

When we think about happiness, we usually think of things like money, a good job, a wonderful family and friends. But research shows that forgiveness can make us happier than any of those other things. Going one step further, Radical Forgiveness shows us that we can transform our own perspectives and lives to achieve this, and that happiness is, ultimately, an ‘inside job’.