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Forgive and live longer

Forgiveness helps you live longer, discovered the American psychologist Loren Toussaint from a study of over 1200 people over the age of 65. The results of the study have been published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine.

Forgive and live longer

Much has been written on the health benefits of forgiveness and therefore the negative health effects of feelings of resentment. Epidemiologists have found regularly, for example, that forgiveness has a positive effect on the cardiovascular system.

For his analysis Toussaint used data from the Religion, Aging and Health Survey, done by the University of Michigan. The survey collected data on the spiritual inclinations, feelings of forgiveness and health of Christian, lapsed Christian and born atheist Americans over 65.


When he looked at the data, Toussaint discovered that belief in a forgiving god, but above all the willingness to forgive other people reduces mortality. The higher the correlation coefficient in the table below, the stronger the protective effect. The asterisks indicate statistically significant effects.

Forgive and live longer

Forgive and live longer

Using statistics Toussaint was able to deduce that an attitude of forgiveness towards others improves health, and better health reduces the risk of dying.

Toussaint does distinguish between conditional and unconditional forgiveness. Conditional forgiveness is when you forgive someone for something that they themselves also think was wrong; that realisation is not necessary when forgiveness is unconditional.

Forgive and live longer

Unconditional forgiveness is what some religious leaders demand of people who were for example abused by priests as young children. We never did anything to prevent the perpetrators from going about their business, say the leaders, and we are not about to take any measures that would indicate that the church has in any way failed. Nevertheless we think that you should forgive paedophile priests.

According to Toussaint's research, you become healthier through conditional forgiveness. Unconditional forgiveness has no effect however.

J Behav Med. 2012 Aug;35(4):375-86.

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Psychology of Longevity

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Your life partner's happiness extends your life span
A life partner who is happy can make you live longer.

Religion as a life-extender: more is better
Religion is like muscles.

Conflictive and stressful relationships are fatal
The negative health effect of relationships that are characterised by conflict and stress are of the same order as - for example - a diet that's full of trans fatty acids and refined carbohydrates.