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Forgive Yourself. It’s Good for You.

Self-forgiveness can be one of the most difficult—and powerful—actions a person can take. Dr. Dacher Keltner of The Science of Happiness explores why it’s an especially worthy pursuit.

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The Science of Happiness

What’s the last little mistake you made? Are you still beating yourself up about it? If you’re still holding onto guilt and shame, you’re not alone, and there’s nothing wrong with you. We all tend to ruminate on the bad. And actually, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Emotions like guilt, especially, are indicator emotions: letting us know something isn’t right, and reminding us what our true values are. But so often we punish ourselves, and that can hold us back from showing up for ourselves and others in the way we want to.

In the latest episode of Happiness Break—a podcast series from our partners at The Science of Happiness—Alex Elle guides us through a practice in forgiving ourselves. It’s something that more of us need to do than we may realize, and something that can be a lot harder to do than it sounds. Alex is a renowned poet, breathwork coach, restorative writing teacher, and author of the forthcoming book of poetry How We Heal.

We know from research that practicing self-compassion helps us grow from our regrets, that it can make us more accepting about whatever it is that happened, and that acceptance leads to a motivation to improve.

Self-forgiveness also supports our parasympathetic nervous system, including the vagus nerve, which regulates heart rates and is a key player in our social connections.

Alex’s meditation is soothing and powerful all at once, in no small part thanks to her talent as a poet. Take a listen, and if you’d like to learn more about self-forgiveness, poetry, and Alex, check out some of the resources we’ve pulled together below.

How to Grow From Your Regrets

Kira M. Newman
Greater Good

Dacher Keltner: “Scientists at UC Berkeley, where I teach my course on the science of happiness, have made some remarkable discoveries about what happens when we meet regret with self-compassion.”

The History of Human Emotions [WATCH]

Tiffany Watt Smith

DK: “We might not realize it, but our relationship to any given emotion is always in flux, across time and across cultures. Like how nostalgia, for example, was once considered a deadly serious affliction; today, it’s often spoken of fondly. It’s a powerful idea to behold: How might we change the way we think about feelings like shame and guilt?”

Happiness Break: How to Be Your Own Best Friend

The Science of Happiness

DK: “Self-compassion is a crucial part of self-forgiveness. My friend and colleague Kristen Neff has pioneered the study of self-compassion, and she came on Happiness Break by The Science of Happiness to guide a short practice in cultivating self-compassion. I highly recommend you give it a try.”

The Healthy Way to Forgive Yourself

Juliana Breines
Greater Good

DK: “Did you know feeling guilt can actually be a good thing? Here’s a great, and really digestible, explanation of what the science says about self-forgiveness and how to do it.”

Dear Self Meditation: Gratitude and Self-Love. [WATCH]

Making Space Meditation

DK: “‘There are days when you drop the ball completely. There are days when you are so good at giving yourself grace. My friend, you are learning. Let the days come, the good ones, and the bad ones, and the ones in between.’ This guided practice on self-love and gratitude by Alex Elle is one part meditation and one part poem.”

On Forgiveness

The School of Life

DK: “Really interesting ideas here on the meaning of forgiveness — and the lack of forgiveness — in our collective life.”

Dacher Keltner

Dacher Keltner, Ph.D., is the founding director of the Greater Good Science Center and a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Keltner is also the host of the Greater Good Science Center’s award-winning podcast, The Science of Happiness as well as their new series, Happiness Break. In each episode, an expert guides you through a happiness practice you can do in real-time and Dr. Keltner shares the science behind it. All in under ten minutes.

In addition, he is the best-selling author of The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence and Born to Be Good, a co-editor of The Compassionate Instinct, and author of the forthcoming book Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life.