Chasing Life With Dr. Sanjay Gupta | The Science of Forgiveness
This is a guest post by WWSG exclusive speaker, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
As we head into the holidays, there can be feelings of both joy and anxiety when it comes to spending time with family.
Engaging with people, even loved ones, who have disappointed or hurt us can be tough, but learning how to forgive can help ease both emotional and physical pain.
Dr. Robert Enright has studied the science of forgiveness for nearly four decades, and he says forgiveness can help reduce anger, anxiety and depression, as well as lowering your blood pressure, leading to better sleep and lowering levels of stress-induced inflammation.
Easier said than done, right? Forgiveness can be very hard, but Enright says the ability to forgive is almost like a muscle you can exercise. You can work to become forgivingly fit.
“It is always possible for those who want to practice it. And oftentimes, I suggest that you don’t start with the huge issues,” says Enright, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin. “Start with the smaller ones, and get to know the pathway of forgiveness. As you do that, then you grow in it, then you can go to the big ones.”
To be clear, Enright is not saying forgive and forget but, rather, forgive and remember.
“Remember in new ways, without the rancor, without the rage welling up inside us again. It’s like if you’ve injured your knee, and at the time, there’s great pain and there’s confusion. But when you look back on that, five years now down the road, you remember what happened. But it’s not with the same kind of pain.”
Enright also says forgiveness is always the forgiver’s choice. You have to find the right time for yourself to forgive.
“Forgiveness occurs when we’ve settled in our heart to some degree and have had a chance to be angry. And for those who are ready – some will be, many will not – the pathway of forgiveness should be freely chosen, and it can be deeply healing.”
Enright has a piece of forgiveness homework for the holidays, and it all starts with three words: Do no harm.
“I’m not asking people to gushingly love the other. I’m saying refrain from the negative. So we start small,” he says. “ ‘I won’t talk negatively about the person. I won’t ignore the person with dirty looks.’ It doesn’t mean I have to interact lovingly with the person and hug you and say ‘you’re wonderful, man.’ No, just simply ‘do no harm’ as a beginning. And you know why? Then you don’t pass your anger on to others in the family. Because anger in a family is like a virus that keeps jumping from host to host.”
Listen to my full conversation with Enright here, and learn more about how to be forgivingly fit.