If there was ever a time to start drinking the mind-body connection Kool Aid, it would be now. At the onset of the new year. The season of resolutions. When you're supposed to forgive all those who have wronged you.
We speak of "carrying" grudges, that they're a weight on our shoulders that impede our ability to move forward. Well, apparently this isn't just a metaphor; there's some real, tangible truth behind it.
According to a new paper published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, in a pair of experiments, students who were reminded of a time they had refused to forgive someone responded to physical challenges as though they were literally carrying more weight than those who were prompted to think of a time they forgave someone.
106 undergraduates were recruited to participate in two supposedly unrelated experiments. For the first, some students were instructed to write about a time when they suffered harm but forgave the other party, others were told to think about a similarly painful situation, but one in which they didn't forgive the offender, and a third group, which was the control, wrote about a social interaction (like a recent conversation with a colleague, for example) that did not involve forgiveness.
They were then given a small physical challenge: jumping five times, as high as they could, without bending their knees.
After controlling for such factors as overall fitness and regular amount of physical activity, the researchers found those who had written about forgiveness jumped higher, on average, than those who had just recalled incidents marked by a lack of forgiveness. The difference was actually pretty drastic: 30 versus 22 centimeters. And they found no significant difference in the jumps of those in the non-forgiveness and neutral conditions.
Furthermore, in another, similar experiment reported in the paper, people who'd been prompted think about a time they held a grudge estimated that a hill was steeper than people who were thinking about a time they forgave someone.
Lead-author Xue Zheng and her team from Erasmus University could not identify the mechanism(s) that yielded these results, but they do note several possibilities. "Victims who are unable to reconcile with their offenders often feel a sense of powerlessness," they write.
It's possible that forgiveness leads to an increased feeling of power, which could, in turn, manifest itself into greater physical strength. Plus, as the authors note, sitting around and stewing about a tiff strips us of energy we could be putting to better uses — like jumping or climbing a hill.
Do yourself a favor: Lighten your load. Don't give any more thought to the jerk who closed the elevator door on you this morning — or else, he wins. Forgive him, and all those who have wronged you in the past, not for their sakes, but for yours. Without those heavy burdens, you'll be able to navigate both your mental and physical worlds with much more ease.