The F Word in Happiness

Lessons From The Playground

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The F-Word in Happiness


At a World Happiness Summit (WOHASU) in Miami a few years ago, (yes, such things do exist) one of the most powerful talks was given by Dr. Fred Luskin, creator of the He’s worked with some extreme forgiveness cases. Think: those who have experienced violence in Northern Ireland, Sierra Leone, and the World Trade Center attack. If you’re curious, you can check out his 9 proven steps to forgiveness here.

After a session I led as a tribe leader, I headed to the bathroom. There was a bunch of people in there who were crying because they had been so touched by what he had said. One of his questions was seared in my Happiness memory bank like a tattoo: “How does it serve you to not forgive someone? I mean, by forgiving you’re not condoning their behavior, you’re releasing yourself from carrying it around and having to recall it again and again…”

Wow. Just think about that question. Is it seared in your Happiness memory bank too now?


In a group chat room with two of my best friends from grad school, both of whom have Ph.Ds., I asked: What more would you like to know about Happiness that would help you on the job as a faculty member?

I was trying to get some information (on the not so sly) for my upcoming workshop for a community college in California. One of my friends replied, “I would like to hear something about forgiveness. It’s hard to forgive at times and I would like to hear about, if any, the connection between happiness and forgiveness.”

The inner educator in me immediately started thinking about exercises/activities to help her work through this. Then it made me think, maybe there’s other people out there who are carrying around grudges and struggling with this? Me included. Yikes.


It all brought me back to middle school in Hong Kong. I attended a British school and I even had a British accent to boot. Some afternoons, I’d purposefully and rather dramatically refrain from going to the Tuck Shop (British speak for convenience store) choosing to stare out our homeroom window at the strapping young lads playing football below in one of my moodies. We’ve all been there though, right? That sense of martyrdom, I have to be right at all costs, I know the right way to do things, and if I stare out that window long enough I’ll get some kind of Moodie of The Year Award?


I’ve always been really critical of myself. Some years back, in a classic Kyla move, after I had gotten accepted to Harvard, I was wrought with self-criticism leaving very little room for me to even celebrate getting into a notoriously difficult school. In recent years, having gone inward, I’ve realized forgiveness actually has very little to do with that other person you’d rather not forgive, and everything to do with you. I forgive you past Kyla.

Ok let’s let that sink in for a second.


Before we continue with the F word we need to address the elephant word in the room: judgment. In a session with one of my clients, he said, “I don’t understand why they would want to work that way. Oh whoa…I just totally judged them. You got me there, Kyla. Guess there is something I need to work on…”

What I’ve realized the hard way, (believe me I grew up in a household where judgment was served with a side of bacon), is that judgment and forgiveness are like two kids on a seesaw: when judgment is high up in the air ecstatic, forgiveness is at the bottom just waiting to get a boost up, up, up again. Similarly, when forgiveness is hurtled back up, judgment goes back down. Does that make sense?


So back to that inner-educator-in-me homework assignment you’ve been waiting for. Spend just a minute or two a day and ask yourself: What do you forgive yourself for today? This morning so far I have three:

  1. I forgive myself for caving into my refined sugar cravings and eating chocolate chip cookie dough ice-cream even though it tasted like summer heaven on a cone
  2. I forgive myself for picking the skin on the sides of my thumbs when I’m anxious
  3. I forgive myself for sometimes judging myself and others

Phew. That was tough. Then read your list out loud to yourself in the mirror. Make sure to make eye contact.

You’ll notice that self-forgiveness and forgiveness of others is that fun and precarious moment of when you and your best friend are both suspended equally on that seesaw. And in that rare awesome moment, you both may look at each other worried, as if there’s something wrong; but actually as you dangle your legs and the whole world stops for just that moment, you realize that this is the moment. And that my friend, is the relationship between happiness and forgiveness: it’s all about balance.

*Dedicated to and inspired by my friend MK, who always tries to balance my seesaw*

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