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A Guide to Happiness via Self Forgiveness

Photo by berlinetapes
To forgive is the highest, most beautiful form of love. In return, you will receive untold peace and happiness. ~Robert Muller

Do you ever kick yourself in the butt? No, not literally, but psychologically?

Have you done things in the past that you’re not so proud of? Perhaps it was hurting someone’s feelings or for being dishonest?

What about times when you were mean to yourself? Perhaps when failing to meet all the expectations set by your perfectionist self, you beat yourself up for it? Even just a little?

Where do you think all these thoughts go? Most likely, they stag like clutter in your inner space. The natural tendency is to repeat this in our head, until we eventually get sick of thinking about it and burry it deep in our subconscious. It is still in there nonetheless, keeping us away from being fully happy.

A Road to Happiness

Popular personal development strategies are known for using tools to achieve goals and techniques to become ‘successful’. If we drilled deep into these topics, you will find that they are all trying to lead you down the same path; the path to happiness. A happiness filled with fulfillment, purpose and peace.

While the tools and techniques I have gained from popular self-improvement channels were valuable, I felt as if something was missing. I’ve come to the understanding that the missing tool from my toolkit was forgiveness, particularly in forgiving myself. We tend to be our own toughest critics, which results in unnecessary self guilt plaguing our minds.

Since beginning to practice forgiveness regularly, I have noticed a shift in my mental attitude and gained a new sense of clarity. I feel better about myself. I feel genuinely happier.

I’ve added the self forgiveness practices as part of my ‘gratitude diet‘; a dedicated moment each week where I list out everything I am grateful for. Afterwards, I list everything I forgive myself for, from the previous week. I like to build my lists on paper. Once I’ve listed all items that I forgive myself for, I write freely; offering any additional thoughts I may have. The process is deeply rejuvenating and rewarding.

We are not always aware that we need to forgive ourselves. It almost becomes a subconscious roadblock, keeping us away from the things we are truly seeking; happiness.

Give yourself the gift of forgiveness. Create the time for yourself to release some of the mental burdens cluttering up in your inner space. Here are six areas you may want to consider as part of your ‘forgiveness diet’ and six practical exercises for each area.

1. Our Physical Body

Everyone I know, even the most physically attractive people, have at some point labeled themselves as ‘ugly’. There will always be at least one feature that they physically disliked about themselves. Too short, too tall, too bony, too fat, too skinny, short legs, big nose, small eyes, thinning hair, zits, etc.

  • Forgiveness Exercise:Be thankful for each body part. Take a moment to imagine your life if you did not have that body part. Consider that there are people in more unfortunate situations than yourself. Imagine how difficult your life will be without it. I like to practice giving thanks to every part of my body for everything it provides me, for keeping me alive and giving me the opportunity to enjoy my wonderful life.

2. Our Intelligence and Learned Abilities

In of moments of frustration or under pressure, have you ever called yourself ‘stupid’? Maybe you haven’t, but I have. I am guilty of this. I have seen this most often with non-technical people dealing with technology. People tend to blame themselves and attribute a failure to their own intelligence. It sounds silly, yet it is so easy to fall into this trap.

  • Forgiveness Exercise: Focus on your gifts. We are all gifted in our own unique ways. We all contribute to this world differently. Write out all things you are good at.
  • If you are frustrated, recognize there may be other things contributing to your frustration:
    • You are tired. Please take breaks. Rest.
    • You are dehydrated. Drink water
    • You are a newbie. See the progress you are making in learning something new. You are one step closer to mastering a new skill.


3. Our Productivity (or lack of activity)

Can you recall looking back at your day and realizing that you didn’t do anything productive? And then, you kicked yourself for it? Again, I am guilty of this. I have seen other people close to me do this, too. This guilt can serve as a form of motivation for some, but more often it just builds a debt of bad energy. I believe there are better ways to motivate ourselves.

  • Forgiveness Exercise: Spend a few minutes in silence; close your eyes and focus on your breath. Take this moment to center yourself and reflect on what you learned today. I believe there are lessons to be learned in every moment of everyday. Seek and ye shall find. Even a seemingly unproductive day can carry valuable lessons.
  • Create a plan each day for small achievable tasks towards a goal. Make sure to follow through on your plan of achievable and measurable mini-goals. It’s important to set realistic and clearly measurable goals. Set yourself up for success with small achievable tasks.


4. Bad Habits

We all have habits in our daily lives that we aren’t particularly proud of. Do you feel guilty each time you are reminded of some habit? This is self-imposed mental punishment. Not only does the punishment not feel good, but it also doesn’t help to rid ourselves of the habit. What are your habits? I constantly have to forgive myself for going to bed late and sleeping in; or getting lost for hours in my email inbox; or not getting physical exercise.

  • Forgiveness Exercise:Forgive yourself for the bad habits. First, stop labeling them as bad habits. Call them habits you are working to replace with new habits. Work on one habit at a time. Create a weekly plan with achievable goals, and then follow through. Make the goals achievable.
  • Dan Millman once said (paraphrasing from a seminar), “If you got up to do one jumping-jack each morning, that’s considered exercise. Do this everyday and you will form an exercise habit. The most important practice is to create the habit. Once you’ve established the routine, do two jumping-jacks. See? You’ve just doubled your exercise efficiency.” It’s a great way to look at replacing an old habit.


5. Keeping In Touch

I watched people beat themselves up for failing to keep in touch with friends and relatives. “What? He had a second baby? Oh gosh, I thought you were referring to his first baby. I better give him a call. I feel so guilty for not keeping in touch.” I sometimes feel so guilty for failing to call my mom and dad. I’d call them, but out of guilt rather than genuinely wanting to call. I would get so concerned with releasing the guilt, that I’d miss the real point for calling in the first place. Can you relate?

  • Forgiveness Exercise:List out all the people you’d like to keep in touch with. Schedule a time to connect with that old friend, or drop them a quick email to say hi. Before getting in touch, sit in silence for a few minutes and think about the qualities you admire about that person. Be present; connect with ourselves first before connecting with a loved one. Remember the purpose of connecting with them, to exchange and share the joys of your life; an opportunity to connect at the soul.

6. Our Health

A friend of mine was recently admitted to intensive care for a stress and dietary related health problem she developed while in college. She is only 27 and it is serious stuff. In our stress-prone & time-lacking culture, our health seems to be the most convenient thing to neglect. We only take it seriously when something bad happened, when the damage has already been done. We know what we need to do, but we don’t always follow through.

  • Forgiveness Exercise: On a sheet of paper, draw a vertical line in the middle from top to bottom. On the left hand side, list out all the things you’ve done to neglect your health. Example, I’m sorry for depriving myself of sleep by staying up all night. I’m sorry for not giving myself fresh air today.
  • On the right hand side, beside each item on the left side, list the opposite statement. As you are writing, feel the feelings of your words. If you wrote fantastic, imagine and feel fantastic. Example, I feel rejuvenated and energetic from a full night of sleep. I feel fantastic from the plenty of fresh air I got today from my walk outside.
  • Create a plan on how you can make the sentences on the right hand side a reality.

Remember to be kind to ourselves. Forgiveness will help us love ourselves more, which gives us greater capacity to truly love others with openness and compassion.

Which of the above six areas did you connect most with? Any other thoughts that came to your mind? For me, I especially need to work on 3,4 and 6 (productivity, bad habits, health). Share your thoughts in the comments. See you there!

Editor’s note: This article is a special extended and modified edition of an article we’ve written and originally published on AlexShalman.

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About the author

Tina Su is a mom, a wife, a lover of Apple products and a CHO (Chief Happiness Officer) for our motivational community: Think Simple Now. She is obsessed with encouraging and empowering people to lead conscious and happy lives. Subscribe to new inspiring stories each week. You can also subscribe to Tina on Facebook.

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43 thoughts on A Guide to Happiness via Self Forgiveness

  1. Yes, in some of the complex dance moves, kicking myself in the butt literally can happen, often accidently rather than deliberately :)

    I remember one quote I enjoy says: if you spend too much time working on your weaknesses, all you end up with is a lot of strong weaknesses. This is exactly where I see the power of forgiveness and acceptance comes in.

    Enough acceptance we could develop in our journey to a blissful life, the more joy we get, especially with things like our body image, our emotional response or thinking preference; habits we can work on to change, other things we’d be better off just learn to accept…

    I’m often guilty of not completing tasks i set for myself for the day, I either do a ‘stay-up-late’ to finish it so i get twice or three times as happy when i’m eventually done, or i put more energy in changing my time schedule to compensate for not having it done…

  2. Great post, Tina.

    This comes to me at exactly the right time. I have been practicing techniques for releasing those emotions that don’t want to let go. It seems two sides of the same coin. In accepting and forgiving, you seem to be letting go, and in my experience of releasing and letting go I am finding myself to be more accepting and forgiving.

  3. Hi Tina, GREAT post! Thanks for linking to my blog. I just “stumbled” this post — I think A LOT of people could find it VERY useful! Hope you are doing well! Looks like you’re accomplishing a lot to me! Gratefully, Jenny

  4. Hi Tina,

    I was once very hard on myself, but have now changed a lot.
    through the help of the many brainwave technology CDs and hypnosis tools, I am now happier and am able to love myself more :)

    Check out one of my post here


  5. Hi Tina, my friend (Joe, I think he even sent you an email) stumbled upon your site this morning and you sent him an email that he forwarded to me … after investing such a long period of time reading several of your articles … I felt the least I could do is give you a digg and leave you a comment …

    Your long time readers must LOVE you … this is my first time on your site and [if I’m honest] I’m feeling a little puppy love myself :)

    I am now on that road to be one of your long time readers.

    -The YoYo Dieter

    PS. This article in particular pulled me in … I’m sure it will have the affect on many.

  6. Hmm … I think I can relate this post with the Ho’oponopono method. :)

  7. For me, I definitely need to work on #2 [intelligence & learned abilities] and #6 [our health].

    When learning new things or tasks, I need to give myself permission to screw up once in a while without apologizing. My bad habit is to always say, “I’m so sorry to ask you…” I need to work on eliminating the “I’m sorry” part when asking a question.

    When it comes to my health, my bad habit is that I either forget or ignore the signs that my body is tired and that I need a break. The irony is that it’s a vicious connection between the brain and body. When the brain is tired/stressed the body becomes so too and vice versa.

    Thanks for the post and the tips. Just in time to start off a new year!

  8. tina

    i appreciate how you list both philosophy AND the practical steps through exercises – i especially the part about keeping in touch. it’s such a great reminder for me to keep in touch with friends living far away. again, great post and keep up the amazing work!

  9. Tina, thank you for such a great article, I can relate for mostly no 2, 4, and 5. Calling me stupid? Mmm, I guess for uncountable times. Now, I’m replacing with new statement, Robert under construction, leader under construction ^_^, it helps me forgiving myself and visualizing that I’m still not giving up on pursuing my dream!

    I like your statement here…

    Before getting in touch, sit in silence for a few minutes and think about the qualities you admire about that person. Be present; connect with ourselves first before connecting with a loved one.

    It’s really a great idea, John C. Maxwell has ever mentioned the principle of 30-seconds, which is saying that within 30 secs you should be able to say something good from the person you meet. By thinking of the qualities you admire from that person before you meet them, you’ll be able to say something good about them in no time!
    And another thing I agree with you, when connecting, be really focus on that person, don’t let your mind wandering around.

    Great article, Tina!
    Thanks for the comment in my site too!
    Robert @ reason4smile =)

  10. Great mix of philosophical musings and practical advice. To me, these tips really hit home when you can understand the thought process behind them.

    Great job!

  11. you can find me lodged in reason number five
    although I AM getting better at keeping in touch.. I’ll tuck your tips neatly in my pocket bc the guilt with that eats me up on a regular basis


  12. jenny

    Thanks – That was a brilliant post.
    Number 1 struck such a chord with me I couldn’t help but laugh.
    It is actually ridiculous how much sense you just made, especially with the forgiveness exercise and I cannot believe I did n’t manage to think of that before now…

    That has to be my revelation of the week there.

    :) Thank you!

  13. This is an awesome post. No doubt. I love myself a lot to the effect that i have become very self-centered and detached.I am indifferent to things and at times, i am very cold that it hurts others. The thing is, i don’t care what others feel. I don’t care what they expect of me and wht they want me to do. I become very formal all of a sudden to close friends and they are pissed off with my odd behavior.Unlike people who want to be with friends and folks, i prefer my pc to people. I don’t know why i have an egotist and have become phlegmatic of late.Such pervasive behavior appalls me and i would really like it if you write an article on the same. I came here thru a frd’s website. I liked all the tips. Frankly speaing, i don’t have any of the problems you have mentioned. The only thing that concerns me now is my stupid care-a-damn attitude coz i know i can’t live without people and cant bear to see that people out there really love me. It hurts them when i dont flatter them with the attention they give me. Please advise.I am confused!Like i told you, i dont have best friends even if one or two considers me as his/her best friend. i dont like talking about my negative points to people.This is the first time i am sort of confessing and it gives me a sense of relief.

    Thanks a million for listening all along. Ciao!

  14. Happy Saturday Night!!!

    I would have to say my hang up is # 1 and I never seem to be fully comfortable with my physical form. Good suggestions though! I am thankful yet dissatisfied- – – How about confused lol . . :)

    Be well!

  15. It’s interesting to read some of the comments in the post.

    Lucid, you mentioned about having hang up in #1 about our physical form. When I abuse my TV diet and having a TV dessert I watch an American TV show – Extreme Makeover.

    As the name suggest, people go into extreme in their attempts to change physical features they dislike about themselves, apart from the extensive cosmetic surgical procedures they go through (chin lipo, nose job, eye lift, fat reduction, breast implant, teeth straightening and whatever other things you could possibly think of) they also get a what I see as a packaging makeover (hair style, skin care, dress etc.) At the end of the makeover, they appear to feel like a new person the moment they reveal their new looks to their astonished family members and friends.

    In the applause of the audience and the high-pitched energetic voice of the commentator, the show ends as if everyone was to live happily ever after.

    I always wondered what really had changed in those who had been through such a ‘Cinderella-transformation’. Apart from the emotional stress contestant may have to endure to broadcast their lack of security with an entertainment value, the amount of physical alteration they do with their body is definitely something beyond my wildest desire to gain a better self-image.

    Have they changed as a person? Will they really be happier from the day they come out of the show? Perhaps! Perhaps the radical change in their physical form had interrupted their old belief pattern and given them a new self-image to work with, perhaps the reality of who they really are as a person will soon sets in after the show, and they will fall back into the esteem issue they once had.

    Now back to where I started rambling, when you are dissatisfied, uncomfortable, or maybe confused about your physical form, I’d say, go and do an extreme makeover and change it, would you not? :) No, I wouldn’t, I doubt if you’d answer yes to that one.

    Can you change yourself – your physical form, or the features you dislike about yourself? If it is an overweight issue that’s troubling you, google “lose weight” and take some action to change it, if you feel you are too skinny like I once felt I was, then google “gain weight” and take some action to change it. If it is your legs too short or nose too long and eyes too big or ears to wide, and you don’t like the idea of plastic surgery, than start to learn to love them.

    You may ask how, well this could go on as a complete new topic to talk about that will take up too much room in Tina’s space, but the quick answer would be two things:

    1. Look at how our body image had been influenced by modern media and commercial culture. Who is teaching us what has become our perceived beauty, is that the aesthetic value we should adopt?

    I’d invite you to take 3 minutes to look at this Youtube clip,

    or the following a bit more explicit one

    If this is what goes into our daily consumption of media, you wonder why people don’t feel comfortable about not having smooth skin, crisp eyes, slim body, large breasts etc…

    2. Accept we are who we are, we’ve been given what we have, length of our legs or other apparatus won’t change, shape and size of our nose or eyes will remain the way they are…

    Is there a problem? Well, we create that problem for ourselves don’t we :)

  16. Forgiving is one of the hardest things that we have to do to improve our emotional development. I know I get mad at myself at the little things that really don’t matter.

    Last week I was mad because I forgot my cell phone charger for an overnight stay. I was pissed and grumpy for hours until I realized that I needed to forgive myself and just let it go. By dinner I was back on track and having a good time.

    Thanks for the great techniques! I’m going to have to try a couple of these next time I’m stuck and afraid to forgive myself.

  17. The individual exercises in this post are very useful. Its amazing how drawing people’s attention to something so simple as ‘forgiveness’ can empower them them to take a new leash on life.

    Although I often feel I forgive myself for things in my past, your post reminds me that each of us can go further to reinforce self-forgiveness so that our past behavior doesn’t exert a hold over our future.

  18. Several years ago now, when in my philosophical phase, a major epiphany of mine was had sitting in my car waiting for my piano lesson. I realized that the same tolerance and understanding I had naturally found for others, I hadn’t for myself. “My own worst critic” they say. After crying for a minute or two, I set out to give myself the “slack” I give others, with expectations optimistic instead of self-defeating.

    Again, thanks for sharing your applied knowledge of self.


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