2. Tell yourself you will feel better because of this forgiveness. Forgiveness is for you, not for others.
3. Remember, forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciling with the person who upsets you or condoning the behavior.
4. Recognize that your primary pain comes from hurt feelings, thoughts, and physical discomfort you are experiencing now, not from the thing that offended or hurt in the past.
5. Practice stress management to soothe yourself when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Try things like mindful breathing or going for a walk.
6. Remind yourself that you cannot expect others to act in the way you think they should, but it’s ok to hope that they do.
7. Find another way to achieve the positive outcome you had hoped for in the first place.
8. Instead of focusing on your hurt feelings, look for the bright side of things. Focus on what’s going well for you.
9. Change the way you look at your past so you remind yourself of your heroic choice to forgive.
Today’s Science of Happiness Guests:
Anoosha Syed is a Pakistani-Canadian freelance illustrator and author of the children’s book, That is Not My Name.
Learn more about Anoosha and her works: http://www.anooshasyed.com/
Dr. Lydia Woodyatt is an associate professor in Psychology at Flinders University in Australia. She studies wellbeing, justice, emotions, and motivation.
Learn more about Lydia and her works: https://www.flinders.edu.au/people/lydia.woodyatt
More resources from The Greater Good Science Center:
Listen to a episode of Happiness Break on Self-forgiveness: https://tinyurl.com/3d7sevfs
Eight Keys to Forgiveness: https://tinyurl.com/5n82yjkf
Is a Grudge Keeping You Up at Night?: https://tinyurl.com/yc7pkdyk
We’d love for you to try out this practice and share how it went for you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or using the hashtag #happinesspod.
Listen to our episode, “How to Make Time for Happiness” https://tinyurl.com/yhf39awt
Listen to another episode featuring the Bay Area Freedom Collective, “How to Feel Less Lonely and More Connected” https://tinyurl.com/4d6dm9zp
Help us share The Science of Happiness!
Leave us a 5-star review on Apple Podcasts or copy and share this link with someone who might like the show: pod.link/1340505607
Anoosha Syed One instance, which I always just cannot let go of is this moment, was when I was in fourth grade where it was the start of a new year and my gym teacher for that class, she was calling out attendance. And when she got to my name, she called me Anooshka instead of Anoosha. So for the next nine months, I just went by Anoushka, and I just could not say anything, because one she was like a person in power, and I was honestly kind of scared of her. One of my friends had told the teacher, like, “hey, you’ve been saying my friend’s name wrong this entire time.” And my teacher, she actually got mad at me. She kind of reprimanded me in front of everyone, like saying, “Why didn’t you say anything sooner?”
I was trying to fit in at school and I felt like I, in order to fit in as an immigrant, I would have to kind of like change myself and I felt like things like my Pakistani heritage, which includes my name, was getting in the way. So unfortunately, I kind of pushed back on my identity and told people to call me Annie. I also did other things like changing my hair color, wearing colored contacts. And that kind of went that way all up until college. And that’s something that I really regret.
Dacher Keltner Our brains are wired to ruminate on potential bad things, to weigh or reflect on the past and learn how to do better next time. But sometimes we go in a rumination loop, repeating over and over again how things could have played out, versus how they did. One proven way to break this rumination cycle is through forgiveness.
I’m Dacher Keltner. Welcome to The Science of Happiness. We know that forgiveness can reap huge benefits—reducing anxiety, depression, and stress. And also connected to physical benefits, like lower cholesterol levels and reduce livelihood heart attack. We also know from the literature that forgiveness is something that we can learn, through practice. Which is why today we’ll explore some lab-tested methods that can help us forgive others - and ourselves. More after this break.
Welcome back to The Science of Happiness, I’m Dacher Keltner. This week we’re exploring pathways to forgiveness. Our guest today tried a practice where she followed nine steps to forgiveness created by Dr. Fred Luskin, the director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project.
We have details of these steps in our show notes, wherever you’re listening right now. But first, we hear from Anoosha Syed, the illustrator and author of the children’s book, “That is Not My Name.” Anoosha, thanks so much for joining us on the show today.
Anoosha Syed Yeah, thank you so much for having me.
Dacher Keltner I love the title of your book, That’s Not My Name, and it’s a beautifully illustrated children’s book. And it follows the journey of a young girl who’s learning to take pride in her name, even though it’s different from the names of the other kids around her.
Anoosha Syed Yeah. Well, I had a very complicated relationship with my name. I mean, my name is Anoushka Sayed, which is not exactly common. And so, you know, as a kid, people got it wrong. And even as an adult, people get it wrong constantly. And there are these small microaggressions that happen and over time they build up. And so if it was just one or two instances of someone, you know, making fun of, like, my school lunchbox or saying my name incorrectly like that’s that’s one thing. But, like, over time, it did lead to me wanting to be a different person. And that’s something that I really regret.
Dacher Keltner You know, one of the hardest practices in happiness, I think, is the forgiveness exercises that we promote and then have been tested in restorative justice programs and lab studies and the like. And, it’s often tricky to forgive people from our past or our current lives. And then you decided to orient this forgiveness practice to yourself. And I’m curious what was going on in your life that led you to think maybe I should sort of think about forgiving myself before I think about the outside world?
Anoosha Syed Yeah. When I was, like, looking through these types of practices, the forgiveness one I thought was really interesting, because as much as I love my name right now, I didn’t realize that I still kept some of that baggage that I held about not loving my name and my culture in the past. My mother tongue is supposed to be Urdu, but I cannot speak it at all, mostly because I was trying to distance myself away from it. And so I realized that I do have a little bit of this, a little bit of tension of just like, “Why did I make those choices as a kid?” Because I’m kind of stuck in this position now where I feel so distanced away from my culture. And so I thought it would be interesting to treat that as a little bit of a forgiveness practice.
Dacher Keltner So the practice has you sort of get clearer about the feelings you have, about what you’re forgiving. And then to recognize the distress you feel is really from things that happened a long time ago. And you practice a little bit of mindfulness and gratitude, what’s good in your life and think about the goals that you have coming out of this experience, right? And how to kind of reframe your past. How did it work for you? What do you do?
Anoosha Syed So I kind of went through the nine steps. First kind of recognizing what the situation was, which was as a kid, I was kind of bullied, was made to feel like I was an outsider for just being myself and having the name that I have. In response to that, I took steps to do things like change my name to something “easier” and also changing my identity and things like that. And so that was what the situation was. And so then the forgiving part was just kind of understanding the why. And the why, of course, is like the self defense mechanism. And understanding that was what the situation was at the time. And one thing like I kept trying to remind myself that at the time I was a child. And I was using the tools that I had with me and that kind of meant having to adapt.
But yeah, I kind of going through this. I did realize that, wow, I’m still kind of holding a grudge both onto, like, the people who had hurt me, but also to the actions that I did as a kid. Section four of like the nine steps was I had to recognize that the primary distress was coming from my feelings happening now and not what happened in the past, which I thought is very interesting because I knew, of course, that, you know, I had gone through this type of bullying as a kid, and of course, I would have been upset by that. But like going through this practice, I kind of realized how much I had still I was still holding on to that as a 28 year old adult, I thought I had moved on from it. I did not realize that about myself.
I also thought the number six was quite interesting where basically it says that you should give up expecting things from your life, from other people that they do not choose to give you. Because that is true that I really can’t expect people to get my name right all the time. You know, I can’t expect people to immediately understand my culture because I’m Pakistani. And surprisingly, a lot of people don’t know where that is. Or like when they see me, they just automatically assume that I’m Indian. And it can be frustrating sometimes. But again, I can’t really expect people to always know. So yes, it’s true. The practice says, “You will suffer when you demand that these things occur because you don’t have the power to make them happen.” So I thought that that was true in a sense, but I when reading it, I also wanted to make a counterpoint in that I felt like in this situation it kind of made it seem like while you can’t expect all of these things from other people, it kind of makes it kind of forces all of the burden on the person with the complicated name instead of like the other people, where it’s really is important for other people to, like, make that effort. Because I can’t always be the one to be like, “Oh, actually, this is what my name is. Oh, actually, can you please say my name right over here?” You know, it should be like fifty-fifty at least, where like other people also do need to make the effort and we do need to educate people.
Dacher Keltner I think it’s a fair critique. Lydia Woodyatt has really cool work and she’s at Flinders University in Australia, kind of zeroing in on like, well, how can we practice self forgiveness like you did? And one technique is being kind to yourself for self compassion. The other is just affirming what matters to you and those practices of self compassion and kindness and just affirming what you value. Help us be easier on ourselves. And I’m wondering if those surfaced as you practice this self forgiveness?
Anoosha Syed Although I do have these kinds of, I guess suppose like negative feelings towards my actions when I was growing up. As I went through this practice, I kind of realized that it wasn’t something that I was intentionally doing and it wasn’t something that I could really blame myself for because it was sort of a defense mechanism and it should be something that I forgive myself for. And I do now.
I felt like forgiveness to my inner child was an interesting concept. You know, like she’s, she’s a little cutie. And going through this practice, I realized that I still had a lot of negative feelings that I never had a chance to unpack and really think about. And I feel like I’ve learned a lot about myself and I feel a little bit lighter after it. I know that, yes, I have done things growing up that I regret because it led to me feeling very disjointed from my identity, feeling like I had pushed my culture away from me. And I’m kind of struggling to catch up right now as an adult. But it also made me recognize that this was something that I did out of protection and out of, like just being a kid. And yeah, I feel like I’m thankful for having learned that now. When I think about my values, I also value that this was a name that was actually chosen by my dad. Like, he really liked this name and I love my dad. And I do love that connection with my parents because of it.
So after forgiving myself, I also wondered if I could forgive a different person and how like that would work. I was thinking back to a moment in my childhood, and this was actually something that I wrote into the book. It’s like it was directly reference. And that was when I was in the fourth grade when basically we were starting a new year and the gym teacher was calling out attendance and when she gets to my name, she calls me Anoushka.
And I mean, I was a very shy kid at the time, and so I couldn’t really say anything. And it was one of those moments where, like, she had said it wrong once, and then the next time I think she had, like, gone over my name really quickly，like called out in passing, like, “Hey, Anoushka, come over here.” And I couldn’t really say anything. And by the time you got to, like, the fourth time where you say someone’s name wrong, It was just too awkward to say anything. And so the only reason it stopped was when one of my friends had told the teacher, like, Hey, you’ve been saying my friend’s name wrong this entire time. And my teacher, she actually got mad at me. Obviously, like, I was really upset over it and like it really affected me for a while because it wasn’t just like my teacher saying it wrong, you know, every time she said my name wrong, all of the other kids, they’d snicker. You know, because I wasn’t exactly the most popular kid. And like, it was really embarrassing. That’s something that has stuck with me for a very long time. And so I try to do this forgiveness practice towards that teacher.
Dacher Keltner What did you do?
Anoosha Syed Oh, my goodness. This was rough. The difficulty that I had was because like people were making fun of my name all the time, you know? But I find myself also directing this practice towards other classmates. But I found that a lot easier because I could justify it with kids. You know, it depends on their upbringing. They’re just kids like they don’t really know any better. And so I could forgive them pretty easily. But towards this adult who should have known better, who had like who had a position of power, I kept finding myself just coming back to like I was a child. You should have known better.
And so I think the way that I finally got around to it, the thing that like really helped me was, let’s see, where is it? Step three of the practice, which was, “Forgiveness, does not necessarily mean reconciling with the person who upset you or condoning their behavior and forgiveness. You seek the peace and understanding that come from blaming people less after they offend you and taking those offenses less personally.” So I was glad that I didn’t have to, like, reconcile with this person or condone them, but just have, like, peace so I could move on. But again, like I was a child. But yeah I thought this was really tough. I don’t really know where I ended towards by the end of it, but I think the practice helped. Even though I haven’t fully gotten past it, I think that it was helpful to at least just
Dacher Keltner Name it.
Anoosha Syed Think through it.
Dacher Keltner Yeah.
Anoosha Syed And although I wasn’t able to fully forgive or like I guess I wasn’t able to fully reconcile with that person, but I don’t have to according to step three. But I was able to make peace with it in some Way.And that’s all I can hope to do.I think.
Dacher Keltner That’s not bad if you get a little bit of peace instead of resentment. Well, Anoosha Sayed, thank you so much for being on our show, and thank you for writing, That’s Not My Name. What a wonderful conversation about forgiveness of different kinds. Thank you.
Anoosha Syed Thank you so much for having me on.
Dacher Keltner You can learn more about each of these nine steps to forgiveness that Anousha in our show notes wherever you’re listening right now. And after these messages from our sponsors, we’re going to learn more about the science of self-forgiveness, and how two different methods can help.
Welcome back to The Science of Happiness, I’m Dacher Keltner. We’ve been looking at nine steps shown to help us forgive others. But, as we heard, our guest put her own twist on it, and also used it to forgive her younger self.
Dacher Keltner Lydia Woodyatt is an Associate Professor in Psychology at Flinders University in Australia. She studies different forms of self-forgiveness —and what kinds of outcomes they can lead to.
Lydia Woodyatt when people find themselves stuck in self-condemnation, they’re there, they’re often ruminating on it and they kind of can’t avoid it
Dacher Keltner Lydia observes when we ruminate, our natural tendency is often to suppress those negative thoughts. But that usually backfires.
Lydia Woodyatt They tend to bounce back with a vengeance. So actually we have to move from rumination where it’s kind of accidentally thinking about it all the time to self-reflection, which is quite intentionally thinking about it.
Dacher Keltner Lydia’s team recruited 192 undergrads online who had felt like they had done something wrong within the past two days.
Lydia Woodyatt And then we look at what we call the process measure of self forgiveness. The different ways people kind of get at that point. So we measured having self-punishing thoughts and feelings, we measured defensiveness or self exoneration. This is really letting yourself off the hook. And we measured what we call genuine self forgiveness. This is really I feel guilty and I’m working through those feelings
Dacher Keltner Then all the students completed writing tasks. One group wrote themselves a self-compassionate letter.
Lydia Woodyatt So we had people write about what had happened from the point of view of a compassionate other person.
Dacher Keltner The other group responded to prompts about their values:
Lydia Woodyatt What value do you feel you violated? Why are those values important to you? What are times in the past that you’ve acted consistent with that value?.
Dacher Keltner They found that the students who practiced self-compassion stopped blaming themselves for whatever they did.
Lydia Woodyatt So it reduced the self punishment and it led to a type of self forgiveness over time. So that end state, “I’ve forgiven myself.” So if you want to just reduce self condemnation, self compassion, it looks like a good candidate. But it was actually. The values affirmation that reduce the defensiveness, increase the working through and lead to both self forgiveness as an end state, but also actual apologies and reconciliatory efforts.
Dacher Keltner The people who wrote about the values they think they violated were more likely to try to make amends, perhaps because it helped them make sense of their own shame.
Lydia Woodyatt What’s driving the shame is really the violation of values. Whether or not it’s against just yourself or and whether or not anyone even knows about what you did, it’s kind of the same process.
Dacher Keltner But things like shame and guilt aren’t always negative emotions.
Lydia Woodyatt They’re functional emotions that are there for a reason and they’re there to kind of stop us in our tracks sometimes. They’re just feelings, they’re indicators. And using that information is really important.
Dacher Keltner On our next episode of The Science of Happiness, do you know how to handle a political disagreement?
Anthony Lusardi One of the biggest fears I had was being categorized or pigeonholed as you don’t understand or you don’t know what you’re talking about. And I think that I was scared of that when I went into it.
Dacher Keltner We learn about the science of bridging divides. I’m Dacher Keltner, thanks for joining us on The Science of Happiness. Share your thoughts about self-forgiveness with us at happiness pod-AT-Berkeley dot E-D-U, or use the hashtag happinesspod.
Our Executive Producer of Audio is Shuka Kalantari. Our producer is Haley Gray. Sound designer Jennie Cataldo of Accompany Studios. And our associate producer Zhe Wu. Our editor in chief is Jason Marsh. The Science of Happiness is a co-production of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and PRX.