Wellness Benefits of Practicing Forgiveness

As borders reopen in many regions, and travel plans are made, families are reuniting after months or even years of separation.  While most friends and relations have done well staying in touch by phone, video chat, social media, or mail, being in-person or in close quarters with people outside of our COVID bubble can be an adjustment.  But before arranging a get-together, it may be a good time to think about a plan to avoid slipping back into old(bad) habits or revisiting past quarrels. Exploring the wellness benefits associated with practicing forgiveness may start you off on the right foot.

According to a recent Everday Health report, it’s common to hold on to resentment towards old friends or family members but harboring these feelings can cause stress and seriously harm close relationships.  Practicing forgiveness, however, can be liberating, and deciding to let go of feelings of resentment or vengeance can help individuals free themselves from chronic anger.  With all the stress and anxiety the world presents us with, harbouring negative feelings that cause us to ruminate or obsess about past wrong-doings can prevent people from enjoying the present moment. 

Forgiveness, however, should not be confused with reconciliation in which issues are addressed head-on and two or more people learn to trust each one another again.  Rather, forgiveness is associated with freeing oneself from the burden of carrying negative feelings or memories into the present and future.   Sometimes a person can be forgiven but the relationship cannot continue because of abuse.  Forgiveness also does not mean repeating past mistakes – if a friend or family member hasn’t paid back loans, forgiving them doesn’t translate into lending money again. 

According to research by the Mayo Clinic, people who practice forgiveness experience greater psychological well-being and have less anxiety, stress, and hostility.  Forgiveness can also improve self-esteem and lead to fewer depressive symptoms.  By letting go of resentments or dismissing retribution, people can focus on having more positive relationships, greater purpose, and a deeper sense of meaning in their lives.  

Stewing about past grievances between loved ones can also lead to chronic stress which increases cortisol levels over the long term, contributing to higher blood pressure or other chronic health problems like pain symptoms.  It may help to frame forgiveness as doing something positive for yourself – freeing yourself from distracting, negative thoughts and anger that affect your quality of life. 

Achieving forgiveness may take time and gradual small gestures.  But with little acts of generosity, kindness, empathy, and compassion, ultimately forgiveness is a gift to oneself and opens up the possibility of a happier, lighter, more optimistic attitude towards life and the world.  Read more about the psychological benefits of forgiveness in a recent study, published in the Journal of Religion and Health