Why do we hold grudges? One simple answer is to not get fooled again. If you look
at the history of humanity, most of our history we lived in small villages or tribes.
It was vital that we figure out who in the tribe was a reliable person, a worker,
and who was the slacker. The resentment we feel toward the slacker or the user would
be protective. Some psychologists believe they have even found the specific region
of the brain devoted to figuring out the freeloader or the cheater.
So why would you want to give up grudges? Well, for one thing, what was important
in the early days of humanity is not a big issue today. While freeloaders do harm
society, you personally aren’t really harmed. Even in your own family, carrying
grudges doesn’t really help anything. On the other hand, the process of carrying
a grudge does cost you. It raises the level of stress hormones like cortisol that
damages your body.
While cortisol is a very helpful hormone when we are under stress, if you have it
all the time, it is a terrible idea. Basically, high stress – like you get from
carrying grudges – is tough on your body. It ages you. It puts fat on you. It raises
your blood pressure. All of that leads to a shorter life. Oh, when we were all living
in caves and trees, high stress wasn’t a big deal. If you survived to 30 or so and
had a bunch of kids, you had done your job. Fortunately for us, today we have higher
expectations for our lives. Fortunately, we are able to rise above the instinctive
programming we are all born with. We do have a choice about carrying grudges.
Should you change?
Before you change, you should carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages.
I suggest you write down a pro-con analysis. What benefits do you now get? What
does it cost you? Does it cost you more than it hurts the person you resent? Does
that person even know?
Try a “so what?” analysis. There is an injustice. So what? How does that harm you
today, at this time? If it is never set right, so what? Just because your primitive
brain carries this doesn’t mean you have to be a slave to that instinct. What overall
difference will it make if someone gets away with something?
Do you suffer more during the time you carry the grudge?
Try a “how does it help?” analysis. If you are angry, how does that really help
you? How does it hurt the freeloader? Can your upset feeling really change anything?
Finally, try a pretty hard-nosed analysis. Is part of your grudge self pity? Is
part outrage? If you were to meet a person who had those qualities, self pity and
outrage, would you want to be his friend? Are you the kind of person who brings
out the best in people? Do you want to be? If you had to pay the price of giving
up self pity and outrage to lift and inspire people, would you do it?
What is the alternative?
Let’s talk about the opposite of grudges. Suppose the opposite were to be a fool
who could be taken advantage by anyone? Would that be a feasible goal? Of course
not. So when we talk about the opposite, we have to include some kind of wisdom
and realism. Do you know someone whom you personally respect who is both cheerful
and wise? Do you know someone who seems to carry no grudge and at the same time
makes excellent decisions about whom to trust?
Perhaps that is a goal worth pursuing. Can you see advantages of cultivating a cheery,
optimistic attitude, one that bounces back quickly from disappointments? Can you
imagine a life where you are full of gratitude at all the good things life gives
you? Can you see a better way? And if you can see such a vision, is that something
you want for yourself?
I can promise you, that is a goal that is worthy of all your efforts.