Happiness recruits

After much consideration I have selected my mother and my friend Kelsey to participate in the happiness activity. I have explained the activity (forgiveness letters) to each of them, answered any and all questions about the activity and received their verbal consent.

Both seemed excited to engage in this activity. I offered them suggestions about what to include in the letters and how many letters to write in the following 4-5 weeks.

I will be sending them my research on forgiveness and the information on forgiveness letters from Sonja Lyubomirsky in order to get them started. I will also be contacting them at the end of each week to track their progress.

Research on forgiveness

Forgiveness: A sampling of research results (American Psychological Association 2006)

  • Forgiveness is a voluntary process involving a change in emotion and attitude regarding an offender (p. 5).
  • Requires letting go of negative emotions towards offender (p. 5).
  • Forgiveness occurs with the victim’s recognition that he or she deserved better.
  • Forgiveness is not the same as condoning, excusing, pardoning or forgetting (p. 5).
  • Benefits of forgiving: psychological healing, positive changes in affect, improved mental and physical health, increase in victim’s sense of personal power, may lead to reconciliation between offender and offended, promotes hope (p. 5)
  • Benefits of forgiveness interventions (learning to forgive): improved affect, lower rates of psychiatric illness, lower physiological stress responses, greater self control, improved physical well being, restores relationships (p. 6)

Forgiveness education with parentally love-deprived late adolescents (Almabuk et al)

  • “Forgiveness is an unconditional gift given to the one who does not deserve it”
  • Study involving college students from US, whom where randomly assigned to the experimental group (forgiveness intervention program) or a control group
  • Results: the experimental group was significantly lower in anxiety and higher in forgiveness, positive attitudes toward the parents, hope and self-esteem
  • Summary of Enright and the Human Development Study Group intervention model

Forgiveness and Happiness. The differing contexts of forgiveness using the distinction between hedonic and eudaimonic happiness (Maltby et al 2005)

  • Hedonic wellbeing: shorter-term evaluation of present day subjective wellbeing as a balance within positive and negative affect, pleasure attainment and pain avoidance
  • Eudaimonic wellbeing: longer-term psychological wellbeing resulting from the engagement with individual development and the existential challenges within life, meaning, and self reflection (scores on the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire seem to reflect eudaimonic happiness) (p. 3)
  • Results of study (students from UK): active and positive forgiveness feelings and behaviors leads to eudaimonic happiness; the forgiving individual who is most likely to act positively and feel positively towards those who transgress against them are more likely to be happy (p. 8-9)

Gratitude, Forgiveness and Humility as Predictors of Subjective Well-being among University Students (Sapmaz et al 2016)

  • Forgiveness not only contributes to decrement of negative feelings, but also to frequency of positive feelings (p. 39)
  • Function of forgiveness: to transform negative feelings into positive feelings (p. 39)
  • Healthy attempt to cope with negative outcomes caused by poor treatment by others or wrong behaviors by oneself (p. 39)
  • Three sub dimensions of forgiveness: forgiveness of self, forgiveness of others, forgiveness of the situation (p. 41)
  • Results of analysis: forgiveness of situation (translation of negative thoughts about bad events into positive ones, when things have become bad for uncontrollable reasons and being empathetic towards the bad events) predicts happiness (p. 43)

The Myths of Forgiveness (Juliano et al 2008)

  • Forgiveness provides peace and personal freedom (p. 41).
  • To seek revenge is human, to forgive is to be Christ-like (p. 41).
  • Christianity is not about forgetting. It is… about remembering, and each time that we recall the injustice that has been done to us or those we love, our Christian response must be to forgive again and again (p. 42) .
  • Forgiveness is a slow process. If one rushes the process and tries to oversimplify it, the result is a pseudo and insincere forgiveness. Adequate time must be given to work through the attending issues (p. 43).
  • Forgiveness is in the best interest of the forgiver (p. 43).
  • Martin Luther King Jr. declared that the person who chooses not to forgive is devoid of the power to love (p. 43).
  • I’m not asking you to forgive him because what he did was acceptable: it was mean and selfish. I’m asking you to forgive because he doesn’t deserve the power to live in your head and turn you into a bitter, angry woman. I’d like to see him out of your life emotionally as completely as he is out of it physically, but you keep holding onto him by holding on to that resentment, but you’re hurting yourself (p. 44).
  • Forgiveness is the greatest gift that one gives to oneself. Forgiveness is an act that results in a healing of spirit, mind and body (p. 44).
  • Six myths of forgiveness: forgiveness and reconciliation are the same, forgive and forget, forgiveness is easy, forgiveness must be communicated to the other, forgiveness is a gift to the one who has offended, forgiveness approves the behavior of the offender (p. 42-44).

Granting Forgiveness or Harboring Grudges: implications for emotion, physiology, and health (Oyen-Witvliet 2001)

  • Study examined emotional and physiological effects when participants rehearsed hurtful memories and nursed unforgiving responses (rehearing the hurt and harboring grudges) compared to when they cultivated forgiving responses (developing empathy and granting forgiveness) toward real-life offenders (p. 2)
  • Results: unforgiving thoughts prompted more aversive emotion, and significantly greater facial tension at the brow, skin conductance, heart rate, and blood pressure; forgiving thoughts promoted greater perceived control and lower physiological stress responses (forgiving response are health enhancing) (p. 12-14)
  • Unforgiving responses (blame, anger, hostility) with impaired health, specifically coronary heart disease and premature death (p. 3)
  • Granting forgiveness is associated with emotional and physical benefits; reduced stress, less negative emotion, fewer cardiovascular problems and improved immune system performance (p. 6).

Forgiveness: Who does it and how do they do it? (McCullough 2001)

  • Forgiveness is distinct from: pardon, condonation, excusing, reconciliation (p. 194)
  • The two normal and common responses to transgressions are avoidance and revenge, but these have negative consequences for individuals, relationships and perhaps society as a whole (p. 194)
  • When a person forgives, the probability of restoring benevolent and harmonious interpersonal relations with their transgressor is increased (p. 194)
  • Empathy fosters forgiveness; rumination (tendency to experience intrusive thoughts, affects and images about past events) hinders forgiveness (p. 196)

When forgiveness enhances psychological well-being: the role of interpersonal commitment (Karremans et al 2003)

  • Forgiveness is associated with well being (p. 1011)
  • Forgiveness is central to psychological healing processes (p. 1011)
  • Enright and the Human Development Study Group experiment: revealed positive results; enhances well being of the individual coping with a variety of offenses; reduced levels of anxiety, anger, depression and increase in self-esteem (p. 1012)
  • Results from current studies (participants were asked to bring to mind an offense by another person whom they have forgiven versus have not forgiven): forgiving is positively associated with psychological well being but the association is more pronounced when relational commitment (to the offender) is strong rather than weak (p. 1016)
  • Failure to forgive someone whom we feel strong commitment results in reduced levels of life satisfaction, self-esteem, and higher levels of negative affect; failure to forgive results in a serious threat to the stability and vitality of the relationship, a basic level of trust and positive reciprocity, and feelings of attachment (p. 1023-4).


Happiness is the ultimate currency

“Struggles and hardships and challenges are a necessary component of an emotionally rich life; there are no easy shortcuts to happiness” (Ben-Shahar 2007, p.89).

“Depriving ourselves of the permission to experience any or all of these emotions [sadness, anxiety, joy, happiness] makes us underprivileged in the ultimate currency” (Ben-Shahar 2007, p. 91).

Dear Brother, I forgive you

Dear Brother,

I remember laughing with you till my stomach hurt. I remember leaning on you for support and asking for your guidance. I remember playing pranks on each other, singing songs and dancing to the beat of our own music. But I can’t remember why or even when everything changed and it all went away. You left me out to dry. I became the enemy instead of the friend. You put others before me and you continue to put everyone and anyone before me even today. You pushed me away. You forgot about me. I needed you and you weren’t there. You were nowhere to be found and I’m still searching for you today. It hurts me when you snap at me. It hurts me when you argue with me. It hurts me when you talk to me disrespectfully, as if I mean nothing to you… As if I am not worthy of your respect… Acting as though you are better than me and better than everyone else. I find it incredibly challenging to forgive you. But here I am, writing this letter in an attempt to start fresh… to wipe the slate clean… knowing full well that the future holds more disappointment and betrayal on your behalf. I forgive you for judging me. I forgive you for looking down at me instead of looking into my eyes. I forgive you for ignoring me. I forgive you for not spending time with me. I forgive you for wanting me out of your life in attempt to leave the past behind. I forgive you for yelling at me. I forgive you for drinking too much and using drugs. I forgive you for being selfish. And I also take responsibility for the destruction of our relationship. It takes two to tango. And it takes two to ruin a relationship. I am sorry for arguing with you. For blaming you. For hating you. I am sorry for pressuring you and expecting you to fix things. I am sorry for allowing this fight to go on for so long. I am sorry for speaking badly about you to others. I am sorry for being embarrassed by you and disgusted by you. Because you truly are an amazing person. You are extremely smart. You are a brilliant math teacher. You are talented. You are an excellent chef. You have a beautiful voice. You are the best volleyball player I know. Despite all the bumps and bruises, I have always looked up to you. You are my big brother and I love you. I want you to be happy. I want you to have peace. I want you be proud of yourself. I want you to know unconditional love. I want to be your friend. I want to be someone you can turn to for support. Today is a new day. God bless you.


Your sister

Forgiveness is hard work

Forgiveness is not easy. Waking up every morning and deciding to let go of past grievances is hard work. But in this work, you are agreeing to love yourself, love others and most importantly to love God. So regardless of how difficult it is… forgiveness is completely worth it. Forgiveness helps break down barriers, it helps stop depressing ruminating thoughts that have the potential to ruin your day and ruin your life. It may not result in an immediate increase in your happiness level because forgiveness is a process that takes time. Forgiveness does not give you immediate gratification in the same way that exercise or sex does. But the decision to forgive is the decision to experience an everlasting peace. It is the decision to live a fulfilling life, one that is no longer plagued by the sorrows and pain of your past. It is a chance to breathe in fresh air and exhale love.

Dear Dad, I forgive you

Dear Dad,

I forgive you for being angry. I forgive you for coming home from work and being disappointed with the family and the life that you came home to. I forgive you for threatening to give up on your family and leave me behind. I forgive you for the nights you lost your cool. I forgive you for the tantrums and the screaming. There were nights when I was afraid to be around you but also afraid to leave your side because of what you might do. The uncertainty that consumes me. The fear of being abandoned. The fear of never being good enough. The anxiety. The rebellion. “When I was younger I saw my daddy cry and curse at the wind. He broke his own heart and I watched as he tried to reassemble it. And my mother swore that she would never let herself forget. And that was the day that I promised I’d never sing of love if it does not exist.” My childhood has left a mark on my heart. A scar. But I forgive you Dad. I forgive you for the nights you drank too much. I forgive you Dad because you are scarred from your past as well. We are dealt a certain hand and we do the best we can with the cards we were given. I forgive you because I know your love for me is infinite. I know that you are proud of me. And I am immensely proud of you. For working to improve your marriage. For working to become a better husband and father. For supporting your family. For not giving up on us.

With love,

Your daughter

The benefits of forgiving

“Forgiving people are less likely to be hateful, depressed, hostile, anxious, angry and neurotic. They are more likely to be happier, healthier, more agreeable and more serene. They are better able to empathize with others and to be spiritual or religious… Forgiving allows a person to move on” (Lyubomirsky, p. 176).

Search forgiveness interventions:

Worthington, E. L., et al. (2000) ‘Group interventions to promote forgiveness: what researchers and clinicians ought to know’


Dear Mom, I forgive you


Do you even remember how bad it was? Do you remember the screaming and the crying day after day and night after night? I will never get those years back but I forgive you. I forgive you for the times you wanted nothing to do with me. I forgive you for not knowing how to love me unconditionally. Because that means you yourself were not given an example of what that looks like. You did the best you could. And you loved me in a way you knew how to. I thank you for that. Because through it all, I learned so much. I forgive you for slapping me across the face. I forgive you for being preoccupied with a failing marriage. I forgive you for the name calling and bashing. I forgive you for pushing me past my breaking point. Because from that I have learned self control. I forgive you for being depressed. I forgive you for being a perfectionist. I forgive you for crying all hours of the night. Because you are only human. Because there were countless nights where you held me while I cried. Because through that I learned how to nurture and comfort and love unconditionally. Forgiveness is not the same as pardoning. Many of the things you did were not right. I should not have had to experience a childhood full of sadness. I can’t forget the events of the past. I wish I could but I can’t. But through forgiving you I am able to look back on my childhood and smile. Because I will remember the good instead of only the bad. And there was a lot of good. The summer vacations, the spaghetti and meatball dinners, the picnics and birthday parties. I hope that by forgiving you, our relationship will grow and blossom. There is still time to form traditions and memories full of joy and love. I want to spend quality time with you. I want to be friends. And most of all I want you to be my mom. Not the scary or scared version of yourself. But the real you. And if you can’t find who that is, then I will keep forgiving you. Because I love you. And because I am not perfect either. I hope that someday you can forgive me.

All the best,

Your daughter

Understanding happiness

What is happiness?

According to Lyubomirsky, happiness is “the experience of joy, contentment or positive well being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful and worthwhile.”

Happiness Myths:

  1. Happiness must be ‘found’
  2. Happiness lies in changing our circumstances
  3. You either have it or you don’t

“When I am in New York, I want to be in Europe, and when I am in Europe, I want to be in New York.” – Woody Allen

I can relate… When I am in Connecticut, I want to be in Australia, and when I am in Australia, I want to be in Connecticut. I thought that studying abroad (changing my situation and my environment) would bring me an immense amount of happiness. It has not made me feel that much happier. This demonstrates that life circumstances actually have little to do with our level of contentment. If I depend on changing my circumstances instead of changing my mindset than I will never experience true happiness.

What determines happiness?

  1. 10% circumstances
  2. 50% set point
  3. 40% intentional activity (I actually have the power to control my happiness)

How do I measure happiness?

After completing Lyubomirsky’s Subjective Happiness Scale, I have a better idea of my happiness set point. On a scale of 1 to 7, where 7 represents the highest happiness score, I have scored a 4.5. According to her research, this is an average score for college students. Yet in my opinion that score seems very low.

The Oxford Happiness Questionnaire:

This questionnaire measures a person’s happiness level on a scale from 1 to 6, with 6 being the highest score and 1 being the lowest possible score. The happiness score fluctuates based on your level of happiness. Today is day one of my journey towards happiness and forgiveness and my score was 4.207. I will calculate my happiness score again at the end of week 2, at the end of week 4, and at the end of my assessment to track my progress.

  1. Happiness score 8 March: 4.207
  2. Happiness score 22 March: 4.862
  3. Happiness score 5 April: 5.552
  4. Happiness score 12 April: 5.793

Center for epidemiological studies: Depression scale 

This scale measures you total depression score given your responses to 20 different statements. Each statement is rated from 0-3 based on how often you felt or behaved during a specific week. The lowest possible score is 0 and the highest possible score is 60. A score of 16 or higher indicates that you are depressed. The degree of depression can range from mild to severe, which is indicated by your score. My score was 19, which suggests that I am mildly depressed.

  1. Depression score 8 March: 19
  2. Depression score 22 March: 13
  3. Depression score 5 April: 7
  4. Depression score 12 April: 8


Understanding forgiveness

What is forgiveness?

“Trying to distance yourself from the transgressor and especially trying to retaliate ultimately makes you unhappy, damages and destroys relationships and may even harm society at large” (Lyubomirsky). So what is the alternative? What can make me happy and what can improve my relationships?

Forgiveness is not reconciliation, pardoning, condoning, justifying, minimizing, tolerating, excusing, or denying. Forgiveness “involves contemplating the injury at some length” and coming to terms with the injury, abuse, betrayal or offense. Forgiveness also involves a shift of thinking. Forgiveness is what you do for yourself and not for the person who has wronged you (Lyubomirsky).

How to forgive?

  • Appreciate being forgiven
  • Meditate on forgiveness
  • Practice forgiving thoughts
  • Practice empathy
  • Write a letter of forgiveness
  • Write the letter you’d like to receive
  • Contact the person who wronged you
  • Make forgiveness a habit, like you would a prayer
  • Ask for help (i.e. talk to others who practice forgiveness and/or ask God for help)

See http://www.forgivenessday.org/heroes.php for examples of forgiveness.

Look up forgiveness researchers:

  • Michael McCullough and Everett Worthington
  • Charlotte vanOyen Witvliet

Research on the science of forgiveness:

Forgiveness assessment (take before and after completing activity/letters):

Forgiveness resources (books):

  • McCullough, M.E., Pargament, K.I., &Thoresen, C.E., Forgiveness: Theory, research, and practice. New York, NY: The Guildford Press.
  • Enright, R.D. (2001). Forgiveness is a choice, A step-by-step process for resolving anger and restoring hope. Washington, DC: APA Life Tools.
  • Worthington, E.L. Jr. (1998). Dimensions of forgiveness: Psychological research & theological perspectives. Radnor, PA: Templeton Foundation Press.