, Volume 30, Issue 4, pp 291-302
Date: 24 Apr 2007

Forgiveness, Health, and Well-Being: A Review of Evidence for Emotional Versus Decisional Forgiveness, Dispositional Forgivingness, and Reduced Unforgiveness

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The extant data linking forgiveness to health and well-being point to the role of emotional forgiveness, particularly when it becomes a pattern in dispositional forgivingness. Both are important antagonists to the negative affect of unforgiveness and agonists for positive affect. One key distinction emerging in the literature is between decisional and emotional forgiveness. Decisional forgiveness is a behavioral intention to resist an unforgiving stance and to respond differently toward a transgressor. Emotional forgiveness is the replacement of negative unforgiving emotions with positive other-oriented emotions. Emotional forgiveness involves psychophysiological changes, and it has more direct health and well-being consequences. While some benefits of forgiveness and forgivingness emerge merely because they reduce unforgiveness, some benefits appear to be more forgiveness specific. We review research on peripheral and central nervous system correlates of forgiveness, as well as existing interventions to promote forgiveness within divergent health settings. Finally, we propose a research agenda.

The first author gratefully acknowledges support for the present project by the Fetzer Institute, grant # 2254.01 and the General Clinical Research Center at Virginia Commonwealth University, NIH 5M01 RR000065–410535. For the second author, this manuscript contributes to an interdisciplinary project on The Pursuit of Happiness established by the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University and the John Templeton Foundation.