You'll likely have heard a lot about the alleged importance of positivity, but if you've downplayed it until now then the most recent scientific studies strongly suggest you should reconsider. More so than ever before, we're aware of the complex links between mental and physical health. For example, what you eat can impact your mood. Plus, how you think can increase or reduce your risk of developing certain chronic diseases. Some of the most exciting new research on this interplay between the body and the mind focuses specifically on the importance of positive thinking and, especially, on the power of forgiveness.
In what follows, we'll explore why and how forgiveness heals, and we'll offer some advice to help shift you towards a more optimistic and compassionate state of mind. While we all have low moods and experience difficulties, if you can make positivity your default setting then you'll have a good chance of improving (and maybe even extending) your life.
Scientists caution that the body suffers when you're in a consistently negative state and that this might promote the development of certain diseases. Meanwhile, studies on people who practice forgiveness and positive thinking techniques indicate an overall reduction in the risk of illness. In this context, “forgiveness” refers to deciding that you are willing to let go of feelings of resentment and anger towards another person, abandoning the urge for revenge and instead, trying to approach life with a clean slate.
To be clear, this doesn't mean condoning bad behavior or claiming that poor treatment of you was okay. Rather, it means empathizing with those who have wronged you, looking for positive lessons you have learned, and authentically expressing your feelings so that you can process them.
The benefits of positive thinking are numerous! When it comes to the power of forgiveness, we will look at seven of the most significant. As we do so, we'll consider common obstacles you might face and offer some simple tips for overcoming those challenges.
If you're angry all the time, your body is perceiving danger and you're constantly in fight-or-flight mode. This puts an enormous strain on your cardiovascular system. In turn, this can make your heart beat faster; flooding your system with stress hormones. Your muscles are tense, and you're more likely to sweat excessively.
In contrast, moving towards forgiveness reduces stress and anger, allowing your body to retreat to a calmer, more productive mode. One of the best ways of letting go of anger is to channel it into a healthy physical activity like running, boxing or dancing. Writing out your angry thoughts can be a way of excising negativity.
As implied above, many researchers have drawn particular attention to cardiovascular benefits when looking at how forgiveness affects your health. With respect to blood pressure, a 2011 study found that those who found a way to forgive cheating partners ultimately exhibited a reduction in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings.
Meanwhile, work published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine indicated that stress and blood pressure levels dropped in response to forgiveness.
So, when you hold onto resentment, you're giving the other person the power to hurt your body. Through forgiveness, you empower yourself to create a healthier, happier body.
One of the best positive thinking tips is to ensure that you get more sleep and have better “sleep hygiene” (e.g. removing electronic devices from the bedroom). However, the reverse is also true; in other words, getting into a more positive mindset also makes it easier for you to get good, restful sleep.
For example, psychologists have seen how forgiveness brings a reduction in fatigue and increases the number of study participants who are able to sleep through the night. This may be partly because being angry and resentful makes you feel like you have unfinished business, and ruminating on this keeps your mind overly alert.
Negative thinking and holding onto grudges doesn't just mean feeling angry towards someone who wronged you; it can make you more hostile and irritable, interfering with relationships in general.
In contrast, all of the recent studies on the impact of forgiveness clearly point to how it makes you more affable, and happier in friendships. The associated reduction in stress could also extend your life expectancy. This is because consistently high levels of chronic stress are strongly tied to earlier death and severe symptoms of illness.
So, if you need more motivation to let go of the past, try to remember just how much it could be inhibiting your present.
Few positive thinking articles talk about this consequence, but actively forgiving those who have wronged you makes you better at thinking through your actions before you act.
Instead of immediately expressing anger in a cruel way, you're able to take a deep breath and consider whether it's helpful for you to lash out. This increased self-control might have further impacts on your overall physical health, as it arguably makes you less likely to choose risky courses of action that could put you in danger. When you're no longer on the knife's edge of rage and have moved to a place of acceptance, self-preservation kicks in.
Among the most significant effects of positive thinking exercises are that they are proven to cause a reduction in alcohol abuse and substance abuse more generally.
So, one of the most important reasons to take the leap of empathy and maturity required for forgiveness is that you'll be far less likely to reach for unhealthy coping mechanisms to match your emotions. After all, many people turn to alcohol because it numbs the pain. Forgiveness reduces the amount of pain you'd want to escape.
In addition, the process of forgiveness is all about positive, honest reflection, so it also makes you better at regulating your emotions without outside help.
Finally, when you work to achieve forgiveness in a particular context, we learn how to do it more easily in the future. In other words, we view forgiveness as the eventual consequence of all conflict, instead of gearing up to “win” a fight. We start to see forgiveness as a regularly practiced, positive habit that encourages us to feel peaceful and calm. The consequence of this will often be better relationships in which there's honest, open, and loving communication.
Meanwhile, the body responds with a slower heart rate, a drop in stress hormones, and a surge in energy that we can use to accomplish other things in our lives.