Heal Your Heart

The benefits of forgiveness


Betrayal, aggression, and just plain insensitivity: people can hurt us in a million ways, and forgiveness isn’t always easy. Whether you’ve been cut off in traffic, slighted by your mother-in-law, betrayed by a spouse, or badmouthed by a co-worker, most of us are faced with a variety of situations both serious and mundane that we can choose to ruminate over or forgive. But forgiveness, like so many things in life, is easier said than done.

It’s important to forgive others for your health. Here are some reasons why:

Forgiveness is good for your heart—literally. One study from the Journal of Behavioral Medicine found forgiveness to be associated with lower heart rate and blood pressure as well as stress relief. This can bring long-term health benefits to your heart and overall health.

A later study found forgiveness to be positively associated with five measures of health: physical symptoms, medications used, sleep quality, fatigue, and somatic complaints. It seems that the reduction in depressive symptoms, strengthened spirituality, conflict management and stress relief one finds through forgiveness all have a significant impact on overall health.

A third study, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, found forgiveness restores the relationship to its previous positive state, but the benefits of forgiveness spill over to positive behaviors toward others outside of the relationship. Forgiveness is associated with more volunteerism, donating to charity, and other altruistic behaviors. (And the converse is true of non-forgiveness.)

To sum it up, forgiveness is good for your body, your relationships, and your place in the world. That’s reason enough to convince virtually anyone to do the work of letting go of anger and working on forgiveness.

How to Forgive

Forgiveness may not always be easy, but it can be done more easily with a few exercises and the right mindset. First, keep in mind that forgiveness is something you do for yourself  to sever your emotional attachment to what happened.

Also, remind yourself that you are moving forward, and forgiving this person lets them (or at least what they've done) stay in the past as you move on. Journaling, prayer, and meditation can all be helpful in easing yourself into forgiveness as well.