Recently, I learned about Anthony Ray Hinton, who spent 30 years on death row for a crime he did not commit. During his time there, he became a counselor and friend to other inmates and to the guards as well. After the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in his favor (after 30 years), he had an interview on 60 minutes. The interviewer asked if he was angry for being falsely imprisoned, he said he had forgiven everyone involved. The interviewer asked “But they took 30 years out of your life-how can you not be angry?!?” He responded “If I’m angry and unforgiving, they will have taken the rest of my entire life.”
He goes on to say that “the world didn’t give you your joy, and the world cannot take it away. I get up in the morning, and I don’t need anyone to make me laugh. I am going to laugh on my own, because I have been blessed to see another day and that should automatically give you joy.”
This man spent 30 years in a tiny cell with the very real threat of death for something he did not do. He didn’t wail and lament the time (although I am sure that happened occasionally), instead he made a positive impact on those around him. Some of the guards at the jail actually begged and pleaded for his release because they saw him as a wonderful person who could serve the world.
He also used the time to realize all that he has to be grateful for, both on the “inside” and once he was released. He now teaches these lessons to those of us who hopefully never have to learn them the way he did.
Forgiveness is truly powerful. We may need to forgive others who have wronged us in the past. If we do not, we carry around the burden of anger, and hatred and all that does is make our steps in life heavy and more difficult (it does nothing to the people we are most angry at by the way). When we can shed the weight, our lives become lighter and more peaceful. Forgiveness is a gift we give OURSELVES, and because it lightens our load, it truly is a gift to the world because without the burden, we can be more positively impactful to the world around us.
Just like forgiveness, gratitude is a choice and takes practice. When we can see all that we have to be grateful for, how can we not be joyful? Research shows that when we practice forgiveness and gratitude, our blood pressure normalizes, endorphins (chemicals that make us feel good) are released, our “happiness hormones” (dopamine, serotonin) are released into the blood stream, our immune system is boosted, and our heart rate is reduced.
When we are grateful, that gratitude transmits into joy, we smile, and we become “contagious.” Our joy leads to joy in others, and just like the butterfly effect, that joy can spread much further than we could ever imagine.
So choose forgiveness=Choose gratitude=Cultivate Joy=Change the world 🙂
Have a joyful day,
Dr. Joel Lindeman