Let bygones be bygones. Forgive and forget. It always sounds easier said than done. Depending on your perception of the offense, you may feel that it’s impossible to forgive. You may still hold a grudge or you may not think that your transgressor deserves to be forgiven. What you may not know, however, is that forgiveness is not so much about the other person as it is about you. Studies are showing that forgiveness has some serious benefits for your physical and mental health and well-being.
Forgiving others may help you:
1. Improve your physical health. We all know what it feels like to be angry at someone: pretty unpleasant. In fact, one study shows that it not only makes you feel terrible, but it also increases your blood pressure and heart rate – all physiological signs of stress that can eventually deteriorate your health over time. The good news, however, is that the opposite is true when we practice forgiveness. Forgiveness literally lowers your blood pressure, a study shows, and the same holds true for the person you forgive. One study even showed that forgiveness was linked to lower use of medications, better sleep and lower fatigue and pain.
2. Increase your overall well-being: Research shows that forgiveness leads to higher satisfaction with life, more positive moods, and fewer negative moods.
3. Have better relationships: Not surprisingly, research shows that people who tend to forgive (rather than seek vengeance) have less conflict and fewer negative emotions than those who do not. They are also generally more willing to put effort into relationships to make them work.
4. Be kinder: One set of studies even demonstrated that forgiveness makes people kinder and more generous in general – for instance, it increases the likelihood that we will donate to charity.
5. Close some doors and open new ones: There is truth to the saying “forgive and forget.” If we forgive, it is easier for us to also forget the transgression. In other words, research shows that forgiveness helps you move on with your life!
6. Feel lighter, literally: An innovative study showed that people who have been taught to forgive literally perceive hills as less steep and were able to jump higher. Ryan Fehr, professor of management at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business explains these findings: “Previous studies have demonstrated that a person’s perceptions of a hill’s steepness are directly tied to how difficult they think it will be to climb. So, for instance, when you’re tired or carrying a heavy backpack, hills seem steeper. We reasoned that forgiveness might have a similar effect, reducing participants’ sense of burden and therefore altering their perceptions of a hill’s steepness.” Forgiveness psychologically and physically unburdens you.
7. Feel more powerful. If you somehow associate forgiveness with weakness, think again! Research shows it can empower you. “We know from past research that victims of conflict often suffer from a feeling of powerlessness – a sense that they are unable to control their own situations,” Fehr says. “We also know that power positively influences individuals’ abilities to take action. So, one potential explanation for our findings is that forgiveness might actually help victims reclaim this sense of lost power by enabling them to take control of their past conflict.”
Are you worried that you just can’t forgive? Just give it some time. A research study found that the amount of time you invest in trying to forgive predicts your success at it! And another study found that, with age, forgiveness comes more easily.
Emma Seppala is a psychologist and Associate Director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford’s School of Medicine. She is also founder of Fulfillment Daily: Daily Science-Backed News for a Happier Life.
It’s Forgiveness Week on Inspired Life. Look for more pieces tomorrow. And if you like this article, you may also like:
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