3 health benefits of forgiveness, based on an expert’s interview with Church News
Health and forgiveness expert Loren L. Toussaint discusses reasons why we should be quick to forgive
In a recent interview with Church News podcast host Sarah Jane Weaver, Loren L. Toussaint shared how forgiveness is good for our physical health.
Toussaint is an expert in forgiveness and its health benefits. He is a professor of psychology at Luther College, the chair of the Discover Forgiveness Advisory Council for the Templeton World Charity Foundation, and president of the Forgiveness Foundation.
“Forgiveness is just one of these things that goes hand in hand with really living your fullest life and flourishing wherever you are at, whatever you’re doing, whoever you’re with.” — Loren L. Toussaint
Forgiveness, he said, is “letting go of hatred toward someone who has hurt you, and ideally — but maybe not always — replacing that hatred with something that probably grows from the seed of a loving perspective on someone.”
“Forgiveness is just one of these things that goes hand in hand with really living your fullest life and flourishing wherever you are at, whatever you’re doing, whoever you’re with,” said Toussaint.
So, how does forgiveness help you physically and mentally?
1. Forgiveness helps us cope with stress
“It’s a calming response to being hurt that helps us soothe those negative emotions, helps us cope effectively with a stressful experience and really attenuates, it dials down, the intensity of those negative responses that have such a toll on our physical well-being.”
Stress, Toussaint explained, “is one of the strongest correlates of poor mental health that we know of.” When we forgive, we are letting go of the stress that could negatively impact our mental health by ruminating on the scenario.
2. Ditching the rumination cycle, forgiveness helps with mental health
When we hold onto things that we feel are an injustice, we tend to turn them over and over in our minds throughout the day and we get upset. This can poorly affect our mental health, Toussaint explained.
The process of rumination is basically reliving the thing that hurt you in the first place, over and over again. It has the potential to ruin your whole day, week or longer.
“We get hooked on kind of a negative thing that happened, and we can’t seem to get past it. We just keep thinking and rethinking and overthinking and reanalyzing. You know, it just becomes this kind of vortex that we get sucked into,” Toussaint said. “And through that process, we end up having some pretty negative impacts on our mental health.”
By forgiving, we quiet that rumination cycle.
3. Forgiveness reduces the risk of cardiovascular problems
Not forgiving can be bad for cardiovascular health.
After a survey that included 40,000 adults in the U.S., Toussaint said “people that had the most struggles with being kind of unforgiving and being kind of stubbornly grudge-holding” had “roughly 25 to 50% increased risk of also having had some sort of cardiovascular health problem in the past year.”
Those who forgave more freely were at less risk of heart attacks, hypertension and other cardiovascular problems.
“My belief is that our great Creator provided these mechanisms that help us do better and live happier, fuller, more fulfilling lives, and certainly good physical health is a key part of that,” said Toussaint.
“That’s my hope and prayer for everyone, is that they consider forgiveness, they value it and they experience the true benefits of forgiveness.”