Armando Galarraga demonstrates the relationship between happiness and forgiveness

Watching baseball can be a frivolous pursuit and a distraction from psychology research, but last night something happened which demonstrated a psychological finding far more effectively than any study or paper.

Armando Galarraga, a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, was very close to pitching a perfect game. For non-baseball fans, its a very rare occurrence, comparable to other rare unpredictable events that take some amount of skill and luck, like bowling 300 or climbing Mount Everest and seeing the perfect sunset. Its something you can work hard for, but even the best of pitchers may not achieve the feat.

On the very last batter that Galarraga had to get out, a close play occurred at first base, and the umpire incorrectly ruled the batter safe. TV replays have confirmed that the batter was actually out, and the umpire agrees he made a mistake. Still, Galarraga has been deprived of his perfect game.

Perfect games happen and personally, I dont normally care that much. But the reaction of Galarraga will make me a fan of his for life. Does anyone remember Roberto Alomar spitting at an umpire because of a relatively inconsequential strike call? Some have called Galarraga the anti-Alomar for his forgiving reaction. Watch how Galarraga smiles after the play or watch his reaction in the below video, talking about it later.

Galarraga’s remarkably calm and forgiving reaction has led to a series of articles talking about him, probably a lot more than if he had completed his perfect game. He plans to shake hands publicly with Jim Joyce, the umpire who missed the call, and present him with the lineup card in the next game, in a public show of forgiveness in front of thousands of fans who might otherwise be irate at Joyce the entire next game.

Personally, I learned something from Galaragga’s reaction that I’ll take with me the next time I am wronged. Its something subtle and true about the power of forgiveness…something that I always know, but often dont have the strength or awareness to practice. Galaragga is not just reducing the amount of animosity in the world, but he is also ensuring his own happiness.

Studies confirm the relationship between being a forgiving person and being a happier person (Maltby, Day, Barber, 2005). Below is a graph of our yourmorals.org data showing the relationship between forgiveness of others (using the Heartland Forgiveness Scale – “I continue to punish a person who has done something that I think is wrong.”) and satisfaction with life (“The conditions of my life are excellent.”). As in the Maltby et. al study, forgiving people are indeed happier.

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It may not have been a perfect game….but it was as close to a perfect reaction as we generally see and I’m hopeful this story will be remembered far more than if an actual perfect game had occurred. It’s a stark contrast to the ugliness we often see in most news and politics. As Galarraga put it himself, everything happens for a reason.

- Ravi Iyer

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