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When we hear the word “mercy,” the image that often comes to mind is us at the edge of a cliff, kneeling at the feet of the person who has our life in his hands. We’re frantically begging him to grant forgiveness rather than toss us into the man-eating, shark-infested waters below. Tears and pleads usually ensue. We’re frightened—terrified, even—and are praying that, deep down, the power holder finds a grain of decency in his heart. Then, suddenly, we’re granted mercy. Relief floods our system, our life goes on, and we become completely indebted to the person who decided it wasn’t worth it to toss us into the shark-infested waters below.

But when it comes to mercy, how often do we stop to think of the power we hold? When was the last time we showed ourselves mercy? Can the person seeking mercy and receiving it be one in the same? These thoughts have been occupying my mind ever since they popped into my head the other morning. Let’s explore self-mercy.

The most common definition of mercy is a lot like the shark-infested water scenario: the act that results when someone who has the power to punish or harm us instead grants us compassion or forgiveness.

Mercy implies being saved by someone else, but in reality, no one has the power to hurt us more than ourselves.

I like to talk about happiness being an inside job; we have to find happiness within ourselves rather than rely on outside forces to provide it. Happiness is an internal, personal journey, and because it relies on our outlook, we’re the biggest friend or foe to happiness. We can speed up the journey; we can also be the roadblock. Think of mercy as the oil that gets your happiness motor running, jump-started and hitting the road.

We all have the tendency to criticize and demoralize ourselves. When we engage in this negative self-hatred, we’re denying ourselves any mercy (even when we deserve it!). We’re inflicting more harm, even when we can choose to treat ourselves with positivity and love. It starts with the simple act of choosing to forgive ourselves rather than toss ourselves into those shark-infested waters. We should actively choose mercy, not criticism; love, not hate; and acceptance, not avoidance for who we are. By showing ourselves mercy, we remove the self-imposed roadblocks on our journey toward happiness.

What does self-mercy look like? Not beating yourself up over choosing the burrito instead of the salad. Embracing your offbeat sense of humor, even when others might not understand it. Giving yourself the freedom to spend an afternoon painting when you really should be doing chores. The little things we do, and the big things, can bring us happiness if we just let them be. A little self-mercy goes a long way.

Happiness Exercise:

We all show mercy to others, but it’s time we start showing the same acceptance and forgiveness to ourselves. In the spirit of self-mercy, I crafted a list of things that I will work to stop criticizing myself for and instead grant emotional clemency. At the top of my forgiveness queue are my skepticism, my bad habits, my quirks, and my fear. I could also add the pizza I ate for lunch yesterday and the laundry that I’ve been putting off for days. I urge you to compile your own mercy list and make an effort to forgive yourself for each thing, one by one.

Fellow happiness seeker, what habits or aspects of yourself deserve self-mercy? I’ve shared my list with you and would love to hear what makes it on your list for emotional clemency!


Lisa Cypers Kamen is acclaimed for her engaging blend of positive and spiritual psychology coaching, workshops, and philanthropic projects. Through her books, radio show, media appearances, and inspiring documentary films, such as H Factor: Where Is Your Heart?, Lisa recently launched Harvesting Happiness for Heroes, a non-profit corporation dedicated to bringing integrated psychology coaching tools and mindfulness training to Veterans and their loved ones. She has been featured on The Huffington Post, ABC and CBS television, Yahoo News, and Money Watch. You can visit Lisa on her website, Facebook or Twitter.

*Photo Credit: WIlly Volk via Compfight cc