How Forgiveness Helps Achieve Longevity
I believe forgiveness is the best form of love in any relationship. It takes a strong person to say they’re sorry and an even stronger person to forgive. – Yolanda Habid
Love cannot flourish between two individuals without forgiveness. Forgiveness cleans the heart and removes weight over it, making both the one who forgives and the one who is forgiven happy, peaceful, and calm. It removes the feelings of guilt and shame.
Forgiveness has positive effects on both the physical as well as psychological health.
Most religions believe in forgiveness, including divine forgiveness. Such are the thoughts of Dr. Robert Enright (University of Wisconsin – Madison) who founded the International Forgiveness Institute and is considered the initiator for forgiveness studies. Forgiveness makes a person happier and healthier. It also improves the functioning of cardiovascular and nervous systems. The more forgiving a person is, the less they suffered from a wide range of illnesses. The less forgiving people reported a greater number of health problems. People who forgive have less stress and are less angry, which also improves overall health, adding years to our lifespan.
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Forgiveness is considered one of the cardinal virtues in Hinduism. In Hinduism, ten virtues are considered necessary for a human being to live a dharmic life. These are Dhriti (courage); Kshama (forgiveness), Dama(temperament) Asteya (non-stealing), Saucha (inner purity), Indriyani-graha (control of senses), Dhi (reflective pruderma), Vidya (wisdom), Satyam (truthfulness) and Akrodha (freedom from anger).
If you do not forgive then you carry a feeling of anger, restlessness, and negativity. One should forgive others and also ask for forgiveness from God for himself if they’ve done something wrong. Forgiveness is considered as an act of bravery. Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
In the Mahabharata, the importance of forgiveness is given utmost importance: “Forgiveness is virtue. Forgiveness is sacrifice, forgiveness is the Vedas; forgiveness is the Shruti, forgiveness protecteth the ascetic merit of future; forgiveness is the asceticism; forgiveness is holiness; and by forgiveness, the universe is held together.”
Forgiveness develops love in the heart and reduces the feelings of hatred and dislike. The unbound love in the heart makes it pure and a person with pure heart is at peace with himself and their soul, which positively affects our lifespans.
In the New Testament, Jesus speaks of the importance of Christians forgiving or showing mercy towards others. Jesus used the parable of the unmerciful servant to say that we should forgive without limits. The parable of the Prodigal Son is perhaps the best-known story about forgiveness and refers to God’s forgiveness for his people. This is a story which was shared by Jesus Christ to his disciples.
In the story, a father has two sons. The younger son asks the father for his inheritance, and the father grants his son’s request. However, the younger son is prodigal (i.e., wasteful and extravagant) and squanders his fortune, eventually becoming destitute. The younger son is forced to return home empty-handed and intends to beg his father to accept him back as a servant. To the son’s surprise, he is not scorned by his father but is welcomed back with celebration and fanfare. Envious, the older son refuses to participate in the festivities. The father reminds the older son that one day he will inherit everything and that they should still celebrate the return of the younger son because he was lost and is now found.
Health Benefits of Forgiveness
Studies have shown a positive relationship with forgiveness and health, as far as physical and mental health are considered. Forgiveness reduces hostility and directly affects personality parts that are correlated with physical health. Additionally, those who practice this have more social support and less stressful marriages. Heart patients who are treated with therapy that includes forgiveness to reduce hostility have improved cardiac health compared to those who are treated with medicine alone. Overall, those who are more capable of forgiving have better perceived physical health.
On the other hand, unforgiveness has an effect on the immune system as it puts additional stress on an individual.
Here are more health benefits:
- Forgive makes you emotionally strong and reduces your level of anxiety and tension.
- Forgiveness improves your immune system and then improves your healing and fighting power with diseases better. In effect, you fall sick less often and maintain good health. You are less prone to get infections.
- Forgiveness reduces blood pressure and keeps it within normal limits. I have myself noticed this. After I forgave the one who cheated on me, I started having good sleep, a peaceful life, and normal blood pressure.
- Forgiveness normalizes the heart rate. Anxiety, guilt, and stress stimulate the sympathetic nervous system and elevates your heart rate, causing palpitations leading to further anxiety, insecurity, and stress. A lower heart rate makes you calm, less nervous and anxious. It also makes your heart tired. When the heart rate is reduced your palpitation disappears and you feel more peaceful and relaxed.
- Forgiveness improves your relationship with friends and family members, helping solve problems even at work. It improves your temperament and feeling of hospitality and reduces anger. Additionally, it helps you respond calmly and not violently to any comments made at you by your friends, colleagues or family members.
- Forgiveness improves self-esteem and reduces the incidence of depression. Holding a grudge by not forgiving can lead to anger, bitterness, stress, hostility and high blood pressure. Self-esteem improves one’s overall performance and success.
- Forgiveness eliminates negative feeling and increases positivity.
- It reduces the consumption of anxiolytic and antidepressant drugs, depression, and anxiety.
- Spirituality helps you forgive and forgiveness inclines you further towards spirituality, which is quite healthy.
- Forgiveness helps you live longer, adding more years to your life.
One has to train the mind to have positive and nontraumatic thoughts because without positive and hopeful thinking, we cannot practice forgiveness. Here, spirituality and faith come in to play the main roles. I feel that without spirituality, practicing forgiveness is difficult if not impossible. Forgiveness needs ‘Nirmal’ or ‘Pure’ heart, brain and soul. To have pure heart and soul, one has to have pure thoughts. A habit of forgiveness and positivity affects your mental and physical health by improving the functioning of the immune system, cardiovascular system, and nervous system and thereby improves your overall health and lifespan.
It is not easy to forgive. It’s easy to think about it, but difficult in practice. But it’s a natural human quality. Once someone, near and dear, cheated on me financially and it took me several years to forget that economic loss and forgive him.
Similarly, Paulo Coelho, the famous Brazilian philosopher, lyricist and novelist, once related an incident in his life. “One morning, going from Death Valley in California to Tuscon, Arizona, I made a mental list of everyone I thought I hated because they had hurt me. I went along pardoning them one by one and, six hours later, in Tuscon, my soul felt so light. My life had changed much for the better.”
Forgive Yourself Too
Usually, people forgive due to a feeling of guilt after doing something unjust. This feeling keeps them disturbed and snatches away the peace and happiness. After forgiving they feel relieved, happy, peaceful and stress-free. So you forgive others but at same time forgive yourself promising not to do the same mistake again. If you keep yourself cool then the idea to forgive will come much earlier in your mind than if you are angry.
A short story, “The Repentant Sinner” by Russian author Leo Tolstoy is worth mentioning here. The story opens with the imminent death of a 70-year-old sinner. The man has never done a good deed in his life, and only with his last words did he address God and ask for forgiveness. When the man dies his soul comes before the gates of Heaven, but they are locked. The man knocks and knocks at the gates, but to no avail.
Finally, the accuser decrees that such a sinner cannot enter Heaven, and all the man’s sins are recited. The sinner begs to be let in, but Peter the Apostle explains that such a sinner cannot be allowed in. The sinner points out that for all of Peter’s virtue, he still sinned by denying Christ. He is still not let in.
The sinner continues his knocking and is again met by his list of sins by the Accuser. Now King David explains that such a sinner cannot be allowed in. The sinner points out that for all of David’s virtue, he still sinned by committing adultery. He is still not let in. The sinner continues his knocking and now is spoken to by John the apostle. The sinner pleads with John, saying that he of all people should understand repentance. The repentant sinner is finally allowed into Heaven.
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