Alexander Pope said, "To err is human; to forgive, divine."
Merriam-Webster defines forgiveness as "to cease to feel resentment against (an offender)." Most of today's world religions have some kind of teaching on forgiveness, which provides a tradition and practice for people to have a basis of forgiveness. On Sunday, August 6, the worldwide community celebrates International Forgiveness Day, a day initiated by Desmond Tutu. Why forgive?
5 Benefits of Forgiveness
- Makes the heart healthier. A 2008 study, "Forgiveness, physiological reactivity and health: The role of anger," published in the "International Journal of Psychophysiology" suggests that forgiveness correlates to having a lower heart rate. Thus, when you hold onto a grudge, your heart actually works harder than it has to.
- Lowers your blood pressure. In a study published in the "Journal of Behavioral Medicine," the trait of forgiveness was linked to reducing blood pressure.
- Extends your life. In another study that examined adults over the age of 66, people who extended forgiveness more readily tended to live longer. The study identified a "statistically significant indirect effect" of forgiveness on physical health.
- Reduces physical and emotional pain. Duke University Medical Center researchers studied subjects who lived with chronic back pain. The individuals who reported that they were more likely to forgive also reported lower levels of pain.
- Lowers stress levels. Hope College researchers related the amount of cortisol in the body to the tendency to forgive. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone in the body. Those who forgive had lowers levels of cortisol in the bloodstream.
What Happens When Forgiveness Doesn't Occur?
Forgiveness is something that tends to happen when you receive an apology and the bad behavior stops. But forgiveness is not contingent on the other person. Sometimes, people do things that are considered "unforgivable." If you cannot forgive, does this mean you're going to have to live with the feelings of anger for the rest of your life? You may just need to find a place emotionally where you can move on. You don't have to forgive, but you can't allow the feelings of anger to take over your own life. You can heal your wounds without making amends with someone who hurt you. You may always feel the pain of being hurt, but you can decide that you aren't going to live in misery for the rest of your life.
Buddha said, "Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned." That's not to blame the victim, but to remind you that you don't have to hold onto your grudges. Let them go and live healthier and happier. Karma will take care of those who hurt you.
A Day for Forgiveness
Tutu did not ask people to unilaterally forgive everyone on Forgiveness Day, but to focus on one incident or person. Maybe your culture or religion has a ritual for forgiveness. The Hawaiian ceremony of forgiveness is known Ho'oponopono. It has four essentials parts, which can be summed up as "I am sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you." Forgiveness isn't just for others, although the Hawaiian ritual of forgiveness is a reminder that when we offer an apology, we help others heal. Forgiveness is a two-way street.
If you need help forgiving, one of the best resources is "The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World" by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Andrea Tutu. Tutu has witnessed some of the worst crimes against humanity and been criticized for his philosophies. His personal experience with forgiveness is something we can learn from. Take time this year to forgive or to at least put a hurt in the past.