We were all tested and pushed to the brink of our patience, compassion, and perhaps even our sanity in 2020. Now it’s time to turn 2021 into the year 2020 wasn’t – by making forgiveness, rather than Tiktoks, go viral. If you’re feeling emotionally exhausted even after the holiday season, we don’t blame you. Here are some ways to work through that and be more forgiving in 2021.
Last year saw all of humanity go through a particularly dark time. Reports showed increases in anxiety, depression, domestic violence and even suicide on account of the way the pandemic upended so many lives. On top of that, compassion fatigue swept the globe almost as quickly as the virus itself. This was all amplified by political unrest and particularly stressful elections. Though there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel, as countries roll out the COVID-19 vaccines, many of us will have to take the time this year to do some much-needed mental and emotional healing – and there’s no shot for that.
According to Andrew Serazin, writing for Time, we already have one of the strongest tools to begin our healing. “It is a powerful solution backed up by both cutting edge neuroscience and age-old wisdom,” he writes. “It leads to greater cooperation, eases conflict, increases personal happiness, lowers anxiety and is completely free. It’s called forgiveness“.
Simply put, forgiveness is defined as “to cease to feel resentment against (an offender)”. It’s a kind of letting go, and shift in perspective, in which negative emotions are replaced with positive ones. Best of all, this powerful tool is entirely within our control. With all the negative emotions we may be harbouring against those who refuse to wear their masks on the train, who grab the last pack of toilet paper on the otherwise empty supermarket shelf, who decline our invitations in order to protect themselves and their loved ones, it’s easy to see how this may be the remedy to at least recovering slightly from the pandemic.
It sounds a little wishy-washy, I’ll admit, but according to Serazin, in recent years there’s been an explosion of scientific evidence to back up claims that forgiveness can have the ability to heal.
How does forgiveness keep us healthy?
First of all, it seems that those with a greater propensity for forgiveness seem to have better health overall.
“In one study,” writes Serazin, “people who were more likely to forgive were less likely to engage in excessive drinking and smoking. Likewise, the disposition towards forgiveness has been associated with reductions in anxiety, depression and other psychiatric disorders. Even more surprising, individuals who forgive have a healthier cardiovascular response to stress.”
Another study of 85 patients suffering from coronary artery disease found a direct correlation between patients’ ability to forgive, and their artery-clogging cholesterol. Admittedly this was a very small sample but the results are intriguing nonetheless.
Over 50 studies have also been conducted in order to examine the way forgiveness can be used as a method for intervention. From these studies, a two-part approach to forgiveness was identified: commitment and visualisation.
How to be more forgiving in 2021
First, one needs to commit to being forgiving. Start by writing down your commitment, talking about it to a friend, saying it out loud to yourself in the bathroom mirror. Second, visualise what it will look and feel like to forgive. You can write this down if you’d like, or just include it in the meditation practice you started as your 2021 new years resolution. This process essentially ensures that you follow through with your commitment.
Sarazin emphasis that all the research also shows what forgiveness is not supposed to look and feel like, and it can be important to keep this in mind as you perform your visualisations.
“It is not the same as justice, which is an equally important but altogether separate concept. Forgiveness also does not require reconciliation with the offending person or the repair of the relationship. Forgiveness works even when it is a unilateral action.”
It seems like such a simple thing – something we teach our children, but then forget as we age. Just imagine how much more peaceful this tumultuous world – and all the belligerent societies in it – would be if everyone would stop to breathe and let go of the grudges and resentment they cling to.
We’ve had months to stay stuck in our homes and sulk and gripe about the coronavirus, about the anti-maskers, about our maskne, about our governments – let’s all just calm down, take a few deep breaths, and forgive. Like the coronavirus, forgiveness can have a massive impact on the world – but for the better – and it’s time we unleash that healing power onto the world.
Let’s all make it our mission to be more forgiving in 2021.