In search of happiness

Lesson 1: Learning how to forgive.

Girls hugging 521 (photo credit: MCT)
Girls hugging 521
(photo credit: MCT)
Life involves choices. At the end of the day, most of us can be seen as determining our own happiness.
It seems that a recent week was a hard one for many of my patients, and for other people whom I happened to run into. As it turned out, it was also a difficult time for the nation collectively, as Ariel Sharon was finally laid to rest.
When people experience challenging life struggles, as strange as it seems, we often see a phenomenon called post-traumatic growth. Put simply, sometimes out of something bad comes something good. I like to think that while we may not have any control over the package we are given in life, we do have control over how we deal with that package.
In other words, when difficult things come our way, we can choose, in part, just how we would like to deal with them.
With the emotional difficulties and challenges, it also happened to be the 22nd anniversary of my mother’s death. Some years seem easier than others, even after so many years.
I thought of myself as quite young when my mother died. The loss of a parent seems to retard us all to adolescence. When both parents die and we become orphans, we grieve further – as only then do we realize that there will forever remain so many unanswered questions, ones we never knew we wanted answered until it was too late.
I like to think that I was lucky, as when my mother was admitted to the hospital, we were told that she had no more than 48 hours to live. Surprising everyone, she lived for eight more weeks, and I was very fortunate to be with her when she died.
During those weeks, much of my life was on hold; you focus on doing what is important to do. What a gift it can be to be afforded this opportunity to put things in order, from all perspectives.
As a clinical psychologist, who spends much of my working time involved in issues around trauma and loss, I am constantly reminded of the fragility and preciousness of life. Perhaps I spend too much time in this bubble and my worldview has become distorted. Yet I prefer to think that these very people have taught me how to live for the moment, because that moment can end far too soon.
It is with this in mind that I advise people to look inward, and make the journey to emotional and physical health and well-being for themselves, and then look deeply at their relationships – with their partner, child, parents, family members and friends. I tell them to find a way to reduce conflict, increase happiness and put meaning into your life. It is no small or easy task, but the rewards are well worth the investment.
There are many ways to bring happiness into your life. One of the best and easiest is to practice forgiveness. Forgiveness is something that you do for yourself, and that you can choose to do. While it may have seemed easier to do when we were children, or with our own young children, as adults it becomes even more important.
I have seen many people in my office filled with pain because they have chosen to hold on to their anger and hurt, and not to forgive. I have also seen these same people when they have chosen to forgive, and they appear as if a weight has been lifted off their shoulders. Knowing when and how to forgive is a lesson that we can pass on to the next generation.
If you are angry with someone, only you can decide whether to let go of your anger and move on, or to hold on to it and stay stuck in the past.
I present a short list of questions to help you move forward, contemplating the first steps of forgiveness.
1. What happened? Recall the story behind your anger.
2. What do you notice in your body? Where in your body do you physically feel your pain when you think of your situation?
3. Ask yourself: What benefit do you get from holding on to your pain? This is a hard question to answer honestly.
4. Ask yourself: How long do you want to hold onto your anger or hurt? An hour, a day, a week, forever? Remember, this is a choice that you can make.
5. Ask yourself: What is the cost that results from holding on to your anger? What will happen if you choose to let go of your anger?
6. How can you allow yourself to feel if you let go and move on?
7. Now, imagine yourself letting go of your anger and moving on. What do you notice in your body? This is for you. This is not forgetting, but rather putting things in the past and moving beyond them. It is not a matter of who is right.
The process may be more complex than I can describe here, but it can be done if you choose to make it happen.
In our family, we never end a conversation, or a day, without telling our loved ones that we indeed love them. Life is short and we never know just what tomorrow may bring.
Isn’t it time you pick one person and find the space in your heart for forgiveness? You will definitely feel better, heal and be happier if you do.
Dr. Batya L. Ludman is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra’anana, and author of the book, Life’s Journey: Exploring Relationships – Resolving Conflicts.
She has written about psychology in The Jerusalem Post since 2000. Send correspondence to, or visit her website at