Excerpt: Dr. Ian Smith's 'Happy'

A similar analogy exists when it comes to forgiving or refusing to forgive. Past events that are painful, disappointing, and disturbing can scar an individual for life. Whether it is being molested as a child, having your girlfriend dump you as a teenager, or being falsely accused of something you didn't do, if the event is traumatic enough, it is unlikely you will ever be able to purge it completely from your memory. So how does one move on? That is where and why forgiveness is key.

Forgiveness is all about letting go, shedding resentments and the desire to get even with those who have wronged you. Once someone has been mistreated, the longing for revenge is extremely powerful. This longing becomes restrictive and unproductive because it keeps you bound to the offense that was committed against you rather than freeing you to move on to seize happiness in the present and future. Forgiveness is so potent that it can flip you 180 degrees. In an instant you can move from anger and vindictiveness to having compassion and feelings of understanding for the person who hurt you.

Not being able to forgive does a lot more harm than good. You are suddenly consumed by all types of negative feelings, which continue to grow the longer you hold on to the anger. When we haven't forgiven and moved on, we constantly replay the offending situation in our minds, thus crowding out more positive thoughts. There are those who hold on to grudges for years, long after the sting of their original hurt has gone away. These people are stuck; they are holding on to a bitterness simply for the sake of holding on. A tremendous amount of negative psychological and physical energy is required to remain angry or vindictive toward someone who has wronged you. But forgiving the transgressor is the fastest way to ensure that you are no longer consumed by the negative thoughts of revenge or anger.

Forgiveness might become a bigger part of our lives if we truly understood what it means and its benefits. Forgiving someone does not mean you condone what the person did, nor does it mean you have to forget the transgression. The act or situation that off ended you will always remain a part of your life, and you will probably always remember it. Forgiveness doesn't mean you are minimizing the severity of the transgression. Forgiveness is more about the forgiver than the person being forgiven. Forgiving actually frees you from the negative mental imprisonment that entraps you when you can't let go of the past misdeed. Scientists have studied the benefits of letting go, and these include less anger, less stress, more optimism, fewer anxiety symptoms (irritability, difficulty concentrating, excessive worrying and tension, unrealistic view of problems, restlessness, or feeling edgy), lower blood pressure, lower heart rate, less depression, improved cardiovascular function, diminished chronic pain, healthier relationships, more friendships, and better reported health.8

While forgiveness is not always easy and often something you can't do immediately after the off ending situation, it is important to identify the signs that tell you it's time to bury the hatchet. These signs include the following:

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