Practicing forgiveness may boost mental health and well-being

May 8, 2023—In a study of people who have been hurt or offended by another person, those who completed self-directed exercises in a forgiveness workbook reported reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety after two weeks compared to participants who had not yet received the workbooks. Participants included more than 4,500 people from Colombia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, South Africa, and Ukraine.

An international research team led by Tyler VanderWeele, John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, presented findings from the pre-print study at a conference at Harvard in April.

Strategies taught in the workbooks included recalling, not suppressing, feelings about the hurt, and trying to empathize with the offender, VanderWeele said in an April 28 New York Times Q&A. He said that forgiving does not mean condoning an action or foregoing justice. Rather, he defines it as “replac[ing] ill will toward the offender with good will.”

He said that he thinks it is possible for people to develop more forgiving dispositions with time. “In a society like the one we’re living in, with increasing polarization and animosity, that disposition to forgive is potentially very much needed,” he said.

Read the New York Times article: The Emotional Relief of Forgiving Someone

Watch an NECN interview with Vanderweele: The effects of forgiveness on our mental health