Celebrating National Forgiveness Day

Forgiveness can be a challenge, but one that is vital for your own wellbeing. PeopleImages.com/Getty Images

The last Saturday in October presents us with a special observance: National Forgiveness Day. 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. We all know that 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, and it robs us of happiness as well. Knowing this, 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. This can be a sign that we need to work on this more, however—again, 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 isn't true either. Forgiving means letting go of anger, and of a lack of acceptance of what happened. Forgiving 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.)

The Role of National Forgiveness Day and Similar Holidays

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 times when it really helps to have a special day to focus on forgiveness. Here's why:

  • 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 a place of being ready to forgive, 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 and forgive already. 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. With the holiday season 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. (And again, if you are reading this on a day other than the official National Forgiveness Day, you absolutely can create your own "day of forgiveness" whenever it works for you.) 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.
  • 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 any 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. Just let it all go!
  • 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.

How to Let Go and Forgive

Forgiveness can be freeing, but it's always easier said than done. The following forgiveness resources can help:

The Powerful Benefits of Forgiveness
Forgiveness can be a real challenge at times. It can help to motivate yourself to go through the process by arming yourself with a clear understanding of why it's worth the effort. Learn what you'll get out of it when you forgive those who have hurt you.

How to Forgive
Like so many things in life, forgiveness is easier said than done. Here are five strategies to help you to go through the journey from wanting to forgive and let go to actually do it!

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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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