The New Year has arrived and with it many of us wish to take steps toward better health and more abundant life. An important element of good health is having an outlook of hope that includes the essential necessary action of forgiveness. Letting the past be the past and letting go of wrongs done to you is an important element of choosing hope that creates many health benefits.

Psychologist Loran Toussaint at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research found people who forgave others had a stronger link with better self-reported mental and physical health. Other studies have shown that holding onto hostilities and the resulting stress it produces can weaken the immune system and increase the risk for heart attack. On the other hand, the spirit of forgiveness can actually reduce the risk of heart attack, improve mental health, reduce anxiety, stress and hostility, lower blood pressure, decrease the symptoms of depression, improve the immune system and improve self-esteem.

Herndon Harding tells the story of a baseball player in the Los Angeles Dodgers minor league. He would break and throw bats when something went wrong. Such behavior unfortunately made him a target for criticism especially from two fans that targeted him and heckled him on a regular basis.

Once, after the batter had struck out, the two young men began to taunt him. He walked over to the fence where they sat a couple rows up from the field and motioned for them to come down.

Now, they were not sure they wanted to meet him, since they had just been taunting him, but they reluctantly decided to accept his invitation. The player had made a commitment to a personalized process of change. He decided not to be furious as he normally was but he decided to do something different. Flipping over his bat he extended it toward the young men and asked, “Do you guys want a Dodgers bat?”

After that incident, those two guys never badgered the player again. They were present at nearly every game. As loudly as they had heckled him in the past, they now loudly cheered and encouraged him on. These guys became his most loyal supporters. This was one of those events that changed this baseball player’s life, because he recognized that he could choose to do things differently. His outlook changed and his environment also changed.

Ancient advice tells us, “be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another ...” but it is not likely the baseball player was acting on this advice, but today scientific evidence bears out that if we hold on to grudges and hurts, then our hearts sicken, our souls shrivel and eventually our bodies will physically suffer as well.

You cannot force some to forgive you. Others will have to move to forgiveness in their own time, but you can commit to treating others with compassion, empathy, and respect. Choose to forgive this year and live life with renewed hope.

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