As we approach the end of 2020, I have been thinking a lot about the importance of forgiveness in our daily lives. We have quarreled with our children over online school, our neighbors over politics, and our families over holiday arrangements under quarantine. This year has been filled with extraordinary stress, and because of the pandemic in particular, rates of mental health problems are on the rise.
But what would the world look like if we made 2021 a year of forgiveness instead?
The negative effects of this stress—from hypertension to anxiety—will linger. Yet we all already possess a surprising superpower to combat this: the ability to forgive. On December 16, from 10 to 11 a.m. ET, we will explore the how and why behind forgiveness with an incredible line-up of speakers at Templeton World Charity Foundation’s inaugural Forgiveness Forum.
There is a growing body of scientific evidence that points to the act of forgiveness as being key for improving our health and wellbeing in very real and tangible ways. The positive health effects of forgiveness are myriad, and will be among the topics discussed with world leaders and Forgiveness Forum speakers from The Elders.
These benefits include:
- One study found that people who are more likely to forgive are also less likely to drink heavily or smoke.
- Another study found that people who are more inclined to forgive experience reductions in anxiety, depression and other psychiatric disorders.
- Heart health improves too when you forgive. Researchers studied a group of 85 people hospitalized with coronary artery disease and discovered that those who reported being more forgiving had much lower levels of artery-clogging cholesterol.
And while we have to wait on supply chains, medical infrastructure and government bureaucracy to get a pandemic-ending vaccine, we can begin practicing forgiveness right now. It’s simple to do and is an ability that every human being is born with. But there are a few things to keep in mind, if you want to make forgiveness a party of your daily health regimen.
Forgiveness is fundamentally something that occurs between two people. And to gain the health benefits of forgiveness, we just have to actually do the work. The science tells us that effective forgiveness requires two key steps of preparation.
First, a person needs to commit to forgiving. This can take many forms, from writing down the intention to forgive, to saying it out loud, or telling a friend, loved one or spiritual leader about it. This process engages our brain, and it primes our body to respond physically to forgiving.
This brings us to the second step, which is focusing and thinking about what it will literally look and feel like when you forgive. How will it feel? Tell yourself a story about forgiving and think about how you’ll do it. Perhaps you will write the person a letter. Maybe it’s a smaller act of kindness or something as simple as saying “I forgive you.”
There’s no one size fits all method to forgiving, but so long as you have prepared by committing to forgive and pre-visualizing how you will do it, once you actually go through with that act that you imagined, the benefits will accrue to you immediately. This process of preparing before you actually do the act of forgiveness primes your body to respond and can bring a profound feeling of being at peace.
So as we think about the struggles of the year gone by and our coming New Year’s resolutions, let’s add a commitment to forgive to our list, and consider starting the conversation as part of our Forgiveness Forum (to register, please visit forgivenessforum.com). Forgiveness won’t just improve our relationships, but it will make us feel better and live healthier for years to come.
Andrew Serazin is President of the Templeton World Charity Foundation and Chair of the Forgiveness Forum, a series of global conversations on the mental and physical health benefits of forgiveness.