EducationGratitude, Forgiveness, and Humor

Craig Toonder, MFT. Oakland Couples Counseling

Gratitude, Forgiveness, and Humor

Gratitude, forgiveness, and humor are three corner stones to healthy living. Learning to cultivate these three virtues not only helps one to live a longer, healthier life, it will also protects and strengthens one’s relationships.

As we move into the holiday season, the season of Thanks-giving, good-will, and holiday cheer, I thought it appropriate to share some thoughts and book recommendations on gratitude, forgiveness, and humor. I have also included a link to an exercise on how to cultivate gratitude in your relationship.


The importance of gratitude and appreciation have been promoted by great thinkers and taught in spiritual traditions throughout the ages. Science is now showing this virtue has significant effects on both peoples’ physical health and experience of well-being. People who practice acts of gratitude, like appreciation journals, tend to be more optimistic about life and are more adaptive to life’s challenges.  In her book, Molecules of Emotion, Candace Pert shares her research into discovering how white blood cells (immune system cells) have the same neurotransmitters receptor sites as brain cells do. Meaning, the molecules of emotion that effect the brain (mood) also effect the immune system.

In relationships, gratitude plays a pivotal role in helping couples feel secure and appreciated by their partners. I have created a blog that explains a simple exercise and a more advanced exercise. To read these exercises view last weeks blog by clicking here.


Like gratitude, there has been much said about the virtue forgiveness. A key piece to mastering forgiveness is to recognize that forgiveness is not done for those who trespass against us. Forgiveness is for the forgiver. It is about freeing one’s self from a grievance story and finding inner peace. Research shows that the accumulative affects of holding on to anger and resentment suppress our immune system, leave us susceptible to depression and anxiety, and decrease our quality of life. Thus the act of forgiveness is in a way, a commitment to self.

People often struggle with forgiveness because they confuse it with condoning, or letting the trespasser to “get away with it.” This is not the case. Whenever possible we want the trespasser to repair or reconcile the injury they have caused. Unfortunately, this is not always possible. The idea here is to tease apart holding someone accountable (other/justice focus) from freeing ourselves from the toxic experience of sustained resentment or bitterness (self-health focus). For more information on forgiveness, read Forgive for Good by Fred Luskin.

In relationships, the possible benefits increase in that, ideally, couples are committed to understanding each other, empathizing with each other, and protecting each other’s sense of well-being. Couples who bring this level of consciousness and commitment to the relationship have the opportunity to use injury and repair to create a relationship strengthened by unconditional love.

Week six of the Hold Me Tight Program I teach is one of my favorite weeks because it is when the couples take the skills learned in the first six weeks and utilize them to repair the wounds of their past, and move as a team towards forgiveness and rebuilding trust in their relationship. Successfully navigating this phase is pivotal to truly deepening the intimacy between them.


For those of you have spent time with me, it will come as no surprise that I am a huge fan of humor. As far as health and well-being are concerned, my favorite story is Norman Cousin’s recovery from severe degenerative arthritis by watching funny movies and surrounding himself with comedy.

Biologically, joy has similar hormonal-neurological effects to gratitude and forgiveness. However, laughter helps release muscle tension, including restrictions effecting respiration. Both of which affect our health, our quality of life, and how energetic (or alive) we feel.

When it comes to relationships, humor can have multiple beneficial effects. John Gottman’s research shows us that successful couples have a 6:1 ration of positive experience verse negative interactions. Every laugh a couple shares together helps solidify their love and desire to spend more time with each other. Furthermore, humor can be helpful in de-escalating an argument or giving perspective after repair. Develop a sense of humor about your relationship. Learn to laugh at yourselves.

Humor can be liberating for couples as well. It can be a place where they get to express their silly more playful side. Let yourselves laugh and play together. I leave with one of my favorite quotes:

“We don’t stop playing because they grow old; we grow old because they stop playing.”

–  George Bernard Shaw

Happy Thanksgiving,

Craig Toonder, MFT

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