The Benefits of Forgiveness to Your Own Well-Being

By replacing anger with positive emotions of understanding, empathy, and compassion for the one who has hurt us, we release the heavy burden of resentment weighing on the mind and body.

Dec 14, 2018

The concept of forgiveness has always remained an essential topic in religion and spirituality, but in recent years, more and more research has come out demonstrating the benefits of forgiveness backed by science.

Holding Grudges Weighs People Down, Literally

Many say that forgiveness lifts a burden, metaphorically speaking, but a 2014 study published in Social Psychological & Personality Science shows that letting go of blame can quite literally take the weight off our shoulders.

In an interdisciplinary study conducted by the National University of Singapore and Erasmus University’s Rotterdam School of Management, researchers split 160 undergraduate students into three groups. The experiment began with a writing exercise during which the first group wrote about a person who forgave them.

The second wrote about a situation where they did not forgive another person and still felt bitter. Finally, the third group wrote about a neutral interpersonal interaction that didn’t involve harming or forgiving someone else.

After the writing exercise, the researchers measured how high each participant could jump in centimeters. The results revealed that those who had written about forgiveness jumped higher, on average, than those who focused on negative emotions.

"A state of unforgiveness is like carrying a heavy burden, a burden that victims bring with them when they navigate the physical world. Forgiveness can lighten this burden,“ the team explains.

How Forgiveness Affects Our Perception

The study took their research a step further by observing how forgiveness affects perception. To do so, researchers sat down participants for a writing exercise. One half of the group wrote about a time when they felt offended by someone and ultimately forgave them. The second half wrote about a similar incident, but one in which they never forgave the person.

Next, both groups went outside to a nearby hill where researchers asked them to estimate its slant. Those who had written about forgiving someone perceived the hill as less steep than those who still harbored negative emotions about a person they hadn’t forgiven.

"The benefits of forgiveness may go beyond the constructive consequences that have been established in the psychological and health domains," writes Xue Zheng of Erasmus University's Rotterdam School of Management. "Our research shows that forgivers perceive a less daunting world, and perform better on challenging physical tasks."

In addition, the study noted that holding onto grudges "can increase rumination, which may decrease the availability of cognitive resources such as glucose that can otherwise be used to cope with physical challenges such a jumping or climbing a hill." In other words, dwelling on negative thoughts about someone who has harmed us takes up energy better spent elsewhere.

So if you find yourself carrying grudges consider this: by holding onto the pain of the past, we bear that burden on ourselves. By replacing anger with positive emotions of understanding, empathy, and compassion for the one who has hurt us, we release the heavy burden of resentment weighing on the mind and body.

ALLISON MICHELLE DIENSTMAN, CONTRIBUTOR
Working from her laptop as a freelance writer, Allison lives as a digital nomad, exploring the world while sharing positivity and laughter. She is a lover of language, travel, music, and creativity with a degree in Chinese language and literature.