Celebrating National Forgiveness Day

Old and young hands clasped over a table
Forgiveness can be a challenge, but one that is vital for your own wellbeing.

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The last Saturday in October presents us with a special observance: National Forgiveness Day. And July 7th is celebrated as Global Forgiveness Day. These are great opportunities to remind ourselves of the importance of forgiveness, to value the forgiveness that others have offered us in the past, and to focus on forgiving those we may need to forgive—including ourselves.

Focusing on forgiveness is important for many reasons. Holding onto anger hurts us more than it hurts the object of that anger. Unresolved anger can create health problems just as unmanaged stress can. It robs us of happiness as well.

Knowing that it is damaging, however, doesn't always make the anger magically dissolve. It's sometimes really difficult to forgive.

Why Is Forgiveness So Difficult?

There are a few reasons that forgiveness in practice is much more challenging than forgiveness in theory. Some of the more common reasons (as well as counter-arguments) are:

  • They don't deserve it. We think the other person doesn't deserve our forgiveness. They may not, but we deserve to be free of anger.
  • The pain is still fresh. When we think about forgiving the other person, we are reminded of what they did, and we become angry all over again. This reaction will become less intense over time as we work on accepting what happened, but it can be a sign that we need to work on forgiveness more—for our own sake, not for theirs.
  • We think forgiveness means approval. We think forgiving the other person is the same as saying what they did was okay, or that they are welcome to do it again. This is not true, and forgiveness should be accompanied by protecting yourself from future harm.

The Role of National Forgiveness Day

So why does it help to have a special day for forgiveness? We are free to forgive others anytime, and often the best time to do so is right when you realize that you're holding onto anger. 

However, there are ways in which it really helps to have a special day to focus on forgiveness:

  • An official reminder: When we're holding onto anger, sometimes we don't realize when we've gotten to the point where we are ready to forgive. Having a special day when we are encouraged to look inward can help us to get to that place, or realize that we're already there. 
  • Momentum from a group. It also helps to have the motivation and momentum to get past our personal obstacles to forgiveness. Having a day focused on forgiveness—a day that everyone is encouraged to celebrate—can provide motivation and momentum at the same time.
  • A fresh start for the holidays. When the holiday season is approaching, we may see family and friends we haven't seen for a while. It's good to clear out any anger we may be holding onto so we can celebrate from a fresh and loving place.

What to Do on National Forgiveness Day

So how does one celebrate National Forgiveness Day or any day that we've decided to celebrate as our own forgiveness day? By forgiving anyone and everyone we may be angry with. Here are some more specific ideas:

  • Take a minute to think about anyone you may be angry with, even if that anger is not fresh. Then decide to let go.
  • If there is a lot to forgive, just let go of as much as you can for now, and work on it again later.

Who to Forgive

Consider who you might want to forgive. Sometimes this might be easy, but in other cases there might be anger you've been holding onto for a very long time. Some people you might want to consider:

  • Forgive your parents if you're holding onto anger from your childhood.
  • Forgive people you grew up with if you had some childhood experiences you're still angry about.
  • Forgive your spouse or partner if you have any relationship baggage that you're holding onto. If it feels difficult to forgive because you're afraid that you'll open yourself up to getting hurt by them again, realize that the anger itself is hurting you, but you can take steps to change your relationship and the way you are treated in it.
  • Forgive yourself if you're feeling self-directed anger for anything, such as goals you haven't met, promises to yourself you haven't fulfilled, or mistakes you've made in the past.

If you are unable to get to a place where you can forgive someone or something from the past, and holding onto the associated pain and anger is affecting your wellbeing, you may want to consider working with a professional. Sometimes there are deeper issues to work through, and having the support of a professional can make the process much easier and quicker to move through.

It is important to remember that you can create your own "day of forgiveness" whenever it works for you. If anger is holding you back from letting go and moving on, consider choosing a day to focus on forgiveness.

How to Let Go and Forgive

Forgiveness can be freeing, but it's always easier said than done. Some things that may help:

  • Remember that forgiveness doesn't mean approval: Forgiving means letting go of anger and accepting what happened. But it does not mean condoning the behavior, and you can definitely forgive and take steps toward protecting yourself in the future. You can even let go of the relationship but still forgive.
  • Express what you feel: This might involve having a conversation with the other person, but that may not always be productive if the other person is not willing to acknowledge the hurt they have caused. Instead, try writing down your feelings as a journal entry or letter. Don't send the letter, but write about what you experienced and how forgiving will help you move on.
  • Think about what you'll gain: Instead of ruminating over the negative experience, focus on what you'll gain by letting go of your anger. It will allow you to move on and direct your energy toward things that are going to bring you joy and contentment.
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  1. Staicu ML, Cutov M. Anger and health risk behaviors. Journal of Medicine and Life. 2010;3(4):372-375.

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