How forgiveness heals

Nelson Mandela spent 27 years of his life in prison. During this time, he was isolated, kept under terrible conditions and didn’t know when he’d be released. However, he never gave up his dream of helping to create a free and democratic society.

When Mandela was eventually released from jail in 1990, he was celebrated all over South Africa and the world. Not only would Nelson Mandela continue his work and ultimately negotiate the end of apartheid, but he would also become a global role model for what it means to be strong, courageous and forgiving.

He could have remained angry with those who had wrongfully imprisoned him. He could have backed away from the causes he fought for and isolated himself from the world. Instead of living in an angry, depressed state, Nelson Mandela chose forgiveness. Why?

Through his wisdom and experience, Mandela learned that when you hold on to anger, you don’t affect others – you only hurt yourself. By letting go of past grievances and accepting these events for what they were – terrible, unjust setbacks – he was able to understand something many people fail to accept: The act of forgiveness creates true freedom in our lives: The freedom to start fresh, the freedom to go after what you really want or the freedom to accept that life isn’t happening to you – it’s happening for you.


There are people, like Nelson Mandela, who experienced some of the worst possible situations in life but were still able to create remarkable, positive change, and then there are those who let themselves get worked up by even the smallest inconvenience. What’s the point in that? What’s the point in wasting your energy on being upset? This happens because you develop expectations that you’re afraid to deviate from. You think that everyone should behave in a certain way, and when someone surprises you with his or her choices, you lash out. You don’t know how to react, so you turn to emotions like anger and sadness.

To be truly joyful in life, you need to let go of your expectations. Every single person on the planet has problems, be they big or small. As Tony Robbins has said, “The only problem we really have is that we think we’re not supposed to have problems! Problems call us to a higher level – face and solve them now.” Instead of thinking that everything should be perfect all the time, drop your expectations. Realize that things will go differently than planned – and that that’s okay!

Choose gratitude

What if instead of focusing on the bad in the world, you turned all your energy toward the good? This is part of believing that your life is happening for you. If you view everything in your life, good or bad, as an instrumental part of your journey instead of a setback, you’ll be able to experience more joy in life. It’s difficult to be angry and grateful at the same time, so choose to be grateful. This will help you to forgive more quickly, and, ultimately, waste less time being unhappy.

Shift blame

forgiveness heals

When you’re searching for how to forgive someone, you’re also thinking about how they’ve wronged you. Say you got fired from your job and had no idea it was coming. Sure, you can be angry about losing the position. You can choose to hate your boss and resent your coworkers for not clueing you into what was coming. But you can also choose to look at things a different way; you can “blame” your boss for allowing you to work in your role. You can “blame” your coworkers for helping you to form a professional network. You can “blame” everyone involved for helping you become a smarter, stronger professional. When you resort to blaming, you’re believing that placing blame will fix whatever happened. This isn’t true. Blaming your boss isn’t going to get you your job back. Blaming your coworkers isn’t going to make you better at your role. The only thing you can do is choose to free yourself from the negative story of what happened to you and choose to work toward a new, brighter future.

Do it for yourself

If it’s unimaginable to you right now to forgive someone else, remember that you need to find forgiveness for yourself, too. You can experience tremendous amounts of pain in life, but those who are able to forgive and move past these instances are a hundred times happier than those who hold on to their suffering. Imagine a life free from resentment and limits. Imagine a life where you can accomplish anything you set your mind on. You can find this clarity of purpose, but first you have to find forgiveness.

We celebrate leaders like Nelson Mandela because of their steadfast commitment to their cause and the heroic actions they undertake because of it. However, we also celebrate them for the small things that make them human, like embracing grace and forgiveness. By incorporating gratitude and forgiveness into your life, you’ll be more joyful and will be able to accomplish more than you ever thought was possible.

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