Who Forgives?

By Shannon McIntyre | December 26, 2007 | 0 comments

A growing body of research has shown that forgiveness is associated with many different health benefits, including lower levels of depression and greater satisfaction with one's life. But it remains unclear what makes one person more likely to forgive than another person. A major culprit has been rumination: Previous studies suggest that people are less likely to forgive, and be less satisfied with their lives, when they persistently dwell on an offense committed against them.

But a recent study now suggests that a certain type of rumination might actually make a person more likely to forgive others and, in turn, become more satisfied with his or her life. Researchers at the University of Carlton in Canada measured participants' tendencies to be forgiving or vengeful, as well as their levels of life satisfaction and depression. They also measured the extent to which participants exhibited one of three different types of rumination: ruminative depression (the repetitive thinking experienced by depressed individuals), brooding (critical thinking about the self or others), and reflective rumination ("contemplating the basis for one's [own] feelings").

They found that forgiving people not only experience more life satisfaction and less depression than others; they also have a greater propensity to engage in reflective rumination, and a lower tendency to engage in any other type of rumination.

These findings did not surprise the researchers. After all, they write, in order to "let go of resentment and adopt more pro-social attitudes"—as required for forgiveness—it makes sense that people would need to uncover "the basis for one's [own] feelings"—the type of self-exploration that's part of reflective rumination.

But the results aren't all positive for the self-reflective: The most conclusive results of the study were that all types of rumination—even reflective rumination—are associated with depression.

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About The Author

Shannon McIntyre is a Greater Good editorial assistant.


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