The latest wellness trend? Forgiveness is good for you
But, tbh, sometimes only revenge will do!
words Megan Wallace
"To err is human; to forgive, divine." So wrote cultural critic, translator and overall bookish guy Alexander Pope (who would definitely run a podcast if he was around today) back in 1711. Essentially, he was saying that since we all have the capacity to make mistakes, accepting apologies is incredibly chic. While the words have stood the test of time, does their meaning still hold true today? Well, if Coleen Rooney can wish Rebekah Vardy no "ill will" after their veeery public defamation trial then, yeah, I'd probably say so.
But as it turns out, forgiveness doesn't just make you look good - it can also make you feel good. Specifically, it could have lasting benefits for mental health. A project published in the Journal of Personality has discovered that those who forgive are less inclined towards feelings of paranoia. Want to find out the full story? We gotcha.
The research team, including University of Southampton's Dr Lyn Ellet, came up with three different studies. For the first, they recruited 128 university student participants (most of whom identified as women) who were then asked to complete an online game. Sounds fun, right? Well, it wasn't exactly Sims but actually a task based on the Prisoner’s Dilemma Game: where individuals believe they are playing a game against a real opponent and that the terms of the game require them to compete or cooperate with the other player. (Spoiler, they were playing with a computer programme).
From there, participants were split in two groups. In the first cohort, they would receive a message from the supposed other player suggesting they should cooperate - only for them to be double-crossed by the computer that they'd put their trust into! The other group didn't receive any message or shady behaviour from their digital counterpart. At the end of this first stage both groups' paranoia levels were assessed with the first group, who had been wronged in the game, proving to hold more suspicions than the other group that hadn't been wronged.
In the next study, 180 individuals' capacity for forgiveness was assessed via the Heartland Forgiveness Scale (HFS), a type of psychological questionnaire. Then on two separate occasions - three days and one week later - the participants were asked to recall pleasurable and difficult situations from the previous week and to rate how paranoid they felt about these instances. Here, the individuals who had been shown to be more forgiving via the HFS questionnaire had less fear of bad things happening to them.
Then came some mind games! In order to test whether there is a causal link between greater disposition towards forgiveness and reduced paranoia, the team instructed 102 participating students to carry out another questionnaire supposedly measuring how likely they would be to forgive and forget. But, plot twist! They were then split into two groups at random and were arbitrarily told that they either had lower or higher forgiveness levels. After that, they had to explain their made-up scores to others. This made them invest in their status as forgiving or less forgiving (despite the fact that some people were not in groups corresponding to their actual nature) - talk about medical gaslighting!
At the end of all of that, their paranoia levels were assessed - and it was shown that those who believed they were forgiving like Mother Theresa were far less paranoid than those who thought they were unforgiving. Good for them.