Is Forgiving Good For Your Health?

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A new study in The Journal of Health Psychology has shown that the effects that stress has on mental health can be minimized by one quality: forgiveness.

Researchers observed the effects that stress had on a person’s health and how a person’s tendency to forgive affected this. The study asked 148 young adults to answer questionnaires that assessed their levels of lifetime stress, their mental and physical health and their tendency to forgive others.

The results showed unsurprisingly, that people exposed to more stress over their life had poorer physical and mental health. The study also discovered however that the correlation between stress and mental health is almost removed in those who were highly forgiving of themselves and others. The effect is “almost entirely erased- it’s statistically zero” says Loren Toussaint, the author of the study and associate professor of psychology at Luther College in Iowa. The study seems to show that having forgiving tendencies acts almost like a shield against stress.

It’s hard to determine exactly how a forgiving personality protects a person against the effects of severe stress. Researchers speculate that those who are more forgiving may adopt better coping skills to deal with stress or may be less affected by stress in general due to their dispositions.

The sample of the study conducted was quite small, and more research is needed to fully understand the benefits of being more forgiving. But Loren Toussaint says he believes “100%” that forgiveness can be learned. Many therapists dealing with patients with poor mental health work to encourage forgiveness in their sessions. Toussaint’s prior research has also shown that saying a short prayer or brief meditation on forgiveness can help relieve stress or anxiety.

Toussaint says that forgiveness has the wonderful ability to get rid of the negative connection between mental health and stress. He says “I think most people want to feel good and [forgiveness] offers you the opportunity to do that.”

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A version of this article appeared on written by Alexandra Sifferlin


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