Forgiving people is good for health, new study shows

2023-05-11 15:16:04
Forgiving people is good for health, new study shows

US psychologist Everett Worthington has embarked on a decades-long academic career studying the health benefits of forgiveness, according to the Washington Post.

While the act of forgiving is often discussed by religions, Worthington has found that a scientific approach to forgiveness also can be a useful strategy in improving health.

He and his colleagues recently completed a study conducted across five countries showing that when forgiveness is taught, practiced and achieved, the result is better mental and overall well-being.

“Forgiveness can change relationship dynamics and prevent a lot of very costly things that can happen in society,” Worthington, a professor emeritus at Virginia Commonwealth University, told the Post.

“There are injustices we experience every day. People don’t have to forgive — it’s a choice people may make or not make.”

Forgiveness as a public health issue

Worthington developed workbooks and included exercises and prompts that allow people to explore feelings of anger and resentment and learn to let go of them.

The latest version, which is free to download in five languages, promises that you can become a more forgiving person in about two hours, and includes thought exercises to help explore specific transgressions and work through feelings of anger and resentment.

It’s based on the most effective exercises used in prior research, and has been condensed to save time and make the program more accessible.

The randomized study, which was conducted among 4,598 participants in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Ukraine, Colombia and South Africa, asked half the participants to complete the workbook exercises over a two-week period. (The other half were allowed to try the workbook later.)

After two weeks, the study showed that the workbook had promoted forgiveness and shown a statistically meaningful reduction in depression and anxiety symptoms among users compared with the control group.

The research is being presented this weekend at Harvard University at an interdisciplinary conference on forgiveness. The study was published as a preprint timed with the conference and is under review for publication by a medical journal.

When forgiveness feels impossible

Worthington can relate to those who think forgiveness in some circumstances simply can’t be achieved. His belief in forgiveness was challenged when his mother was killed in 1996 — and he was forced to cope with his own anger toward the perpetrator and the police, whom he blamed for the lack of a conviction.

“Suddenly here I was, someone who had studied forgiveness, and now I had to really deal with something that was much more serious than I had ever experienced before,” he said.

He said he was able to forgive the man suspected in the killing, a troubled individual with a below-average IQ and a history of being abused as a child. It was more difficult, he said, to forgive the police officers for their inconclusive investigation. The experience showed him that forgiveness and wanting justice are not mutually exclusive.


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