Loren Toussaint, Luther College – Forgiveness

Want to reduce your stress?  Try forgiveness.

Loren Toussaint, professor of psychology at Luther College, explains how forgiving yourself and others can lead to a more harmonious life.

Toussaint earned his Ph.D. in 1998. After his postdoctoral trainee experience at the University of Michigan, he served as an assistant professor at Idaho State University for three years (2001–4). “I taught undergraduates and graduate students in masters and Ph.D. programs and I loved it. But it was Idaho, not Iowa.”

Toussaint acknowledges that his postdoctoral experience took an additional two years to complete after an already long Ph.D. program of study. Upon reflection, he feels it was well worth it. “It was during that time that I found my passion and learned about the kind of scholar I wanted to become,” he says. “I had good mentors in graduate school and as a postdoctoral fellow. They were invaluable to me and prepared me well for a career as a professor. I continue to write and talk with them regularly.”

The take-home message for students is, don’t hurry through your training. “Take your time, invest in the experience, and forge lifelong relationships with your teachers and mentors,” he says. “It cost me two years of earnings to do my post-doc, but it has paid annual dividends, so-to-speak, ever since. Invest early and heavily in experiences and relationships that will yield career-long returns.”



We are often hurt by other people and just as frequently we return the favor. Forgiveness of others and oneself both involve reducing negative thoughts, feelings and behaviors and instead promoting the positive variety at yourself or another offender.  This doesn’t imply condoning, denying, or excusing wrongdoing, and it may or may not involve making up with someone or getting justice.  But it is worthwhile.

Forgiveness of others and oneself can have remarkable benefits. For instance, we have found that forgiving others was directly related to less stress and symptoms of mental and physical illness. We also found that the most forgiving individuals didn’t show the usual association between stress and worse mental health. Similarly, in another recent study we found that the most self-forgiving individuals did not show the usual association between hostility and worse cognitive function. Both types of forgiveness are directly linked to health and buffer the effects of stress on health, and both likely help us feel better by helping us cope with common interpersonal stress and conflict.

When learning of the benefits of forgiving others and oneself, it’s common to want to learn how to become a more forgiving person. We’ve found that prayer, mediation, and journaling are good ways of promoting forgiveness, but developing empathy for others and self-compassion are also important. Educational forgiveness programs too are effective in increasing forgiveness of others and oneself, and these programs also have health benefits. It really is true that learning to forgive can help improve the life you live.

  1. Thomas Panetta
    • Loren Toussaint
    • Enoch Heckman
      • Loren Toussaint