The Happiness Project

Forgive an Accident. Which Is Harder Than It Sounds.

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too ! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in—no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

One of my happiness-project resolutions is to ” Forgive an accident .” Now, you might think, why should I try to forgive an accident? After all, if something is an accident, there’s nothing to forgive. Accidents happen, we all know that.

Yes, I know that. Accidents happen. But I still find it hard not to be annoyed—and to act annoyed—in the face of certain accidents. Reminding myself of my resolution helps me to respond in the right way.

Here are just two examples:

1. When we were flying to Kansas City to spend Christmas with my parents, my daughter lost her “functional appliance.” If you’re not current with the latest parlance of orthodontia, this is like a fancy retainer. My daughter is supposed to wear it at all times, except when she’s eating. We were on the plane, she took it out to eat, and the next time she looked for it, it was gone. We all looked, couldn’t find it. We think it must’ve been thrown away when the stewardess took her food tray.

I was annoyed: She wouldn’t be able to wear this thing again until we were back in New York and had managed to replace it; getting a new one would be expensive; it would be inconvenient.

2. Recently, my husband left his wallet in a cab. The second he reached the sidewalk, he realized he didn’t have his wallet, and he raced down the street to stop the cab, but it was gone. He waited anxiously for two days before he had to admit to himself that it really wasn’t coming back. Before that, however, we had to cancel our credit cards.

I was annoyed: We’d put a lot of recurrent and online charges on one of the lost cards, so that number had to replaced many times, by me.

In each situation, I could feel the accident-causer bracing against my possible annoyance, and it was very, very hard to resist the temptation to say things like “You should’ve been more careful!,” “Now we’re going to have all this hassle to fix this!,” “How could you have not noticed that you didn’t know where it was?,” etc. But I realized—what was the point? My daughter felt terrible, my husband felt terrible. In general, they’re both very responsible. My daughter had never lost her F.A. before, and my husband had never lost a wallet before. They obviously hadn’t done these things on purpose. Why make a bad situation worse?

In each case, once the moment passed, I was very glad that I reacted mildly. (I even came up with a good idea about credit cards: Now we have a card that never leaves the house that we use for online charges.) When you’re feeling bad about something you’ve done, it’s awful when someone adds to that feeling—you feel defensive, resentful, and misunderstood. I didn’t want to cause that.

Also, one of my Personal Commandments is to Act the way I want to feel ; although we think we act because of the way we feel , in fact, we often feel because of the way we act . By acting calm and forgiving, I help myself to feel calm and forgiving, instead of annoyed.

The resolution would be more accurately phrased as “Let go of an accident” or “Forget an accident,” but somehow I need the little extra kick supplied by the word “forgive.”

How about you? Have you ever felt tempted to react harshly to something someone did, even though it was an accident?

* I loved this little video on Gimundo —especially because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to use photographs to keep happiness-project resolutions like “Take time for projects” and “Be a treasure house of happy memories.” The Black Lake Island project and Taking tourist photos of my own romance , for example, both use photographs.

* I send out short monthly newsletters that highlight the best of the previous month’s posts to about 24,000 subscribers. If you’d like to sign up, click here or e-mail me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. (sorry about that weird format—trying to to thwart spammers.) Just write “newsletter” in the subject line. It’s free.