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Forgiveness Does Wonders For Mental Health

Give someone a break. You’ll be glad you did.

Image Via CC (Credit: Al Jazeera English)

Companies aren’t manufacturing spray-on forgiveness yet, but researchers at Luther College in Iowa have given the world another reason to think scientists could try to harness the liberating feeling in the not-so-distant future. The team, led by psych professor Loren Toussaint, found that mental illness associated with stress plummeted among young adults who often forgave others (and themselves).

“It’s almost entirely erased—it’s statistically zero,” he told TIME, asserting—perhaps a bit hopefully—that forgiveness can “100 percent” be learned.

Social science has a lot on its plate when it comes to making yourself feel better about yourself. You wouldn’t, for instance, want to be so self-forgiving that you excuse the kind of conduct that’s associated with disorders of its own. But it’s hard to be sure which studies suggest the right behavioral boundaries. (You might recall the unnerving report hinting that your ex could be a psycho if he or she wants to stay friends.)

Still, forgiving someone is pretty straightforward if you’re not so scheming and manipulative that you fall for your own B.S. The difficulty isn’t in how confusing genuine forgiveness is but in how difficult. That’s why pressure seems likely to build to turn it into some kind of performance-enhancing substance. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that researchers revealed how oxytocin—not to be confused with cripplingly addictive and illegal oxytocin—is a so-called empathy molecule, capable of making us more prosocial or friendly just through a few puffs of nasal spray. If we turned love into a drug, could we ever forgive ourselves?

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