Forgiveness and Meaning in Life in Older Adults

May 25, 2021

A group of Polish researchers found that forgiving others may play an important role in achieving meaning in life in older adults.

The study of forgiveness has flourished in recent decades since scientists discovered its benefits for physical and mental health. A group of Polish researchers estimating the relationship between forgiveness and the search for meaning in life, has lately determined that forgiving others may play an important role in achieving meaning in life as it offers a valuable platform for deliberate acts of acceptance of positive affect, behaviour, and cognition.

The findings of this recent study – titled, “Interpersonal Forgiveness and Meaning in Life in Older Adults: The Mediating and Moderating Roles of the Religious Meaning System”, and published in the journal “Religions” – confirmed “the significant role played by religious beliefs and behaviour in the domain of purpose and goals.”

Authors write: “Forgiving others may play an important role in achieving meaning in life as it offers a valuable platform for deliberate moral acts of acceptance of positive affect, behaviour, and cognition towards a transgressor. The aim of this paper was to analyse the relationship between forgiveness and presence, and the search for meaning in life, as well as the mediating role of the religious meaning system in this relationship among older adults. A total of 205 older adults, 112 women and 93 men, participated in the study. The mean age was 72.59.”

“The religious meaning system was confirmed as a mediator in the relationships between forgiveness (revenge, avoidance, and benevolence) and both presence and the search for meaning. The findings point to the significant role played by religious beliefs and behaviour in the domain of purpose and goals. Additionally, testing the mediation and moderation effects sheds new light on the interaction of compassion- and goal-oriented mechanisms in older adults’ meaning in life.”

“Three dimensions of forgiveness were tested as independent variables – revenge, avoidance, and benevolence – and two aspects of meaning in life were tested as dependent variables – presence and search for meaning. We expected that benevolence would show positive relationships, whereas revenge and avoidance would show negative relationships with both presence and search for meaning in life (Hypothesis 1), and we assumed that the religious meaning system would operate as a mediator (Hypothesis 2) and a moderator (Hypothesis 3) in these relationships.”

With regard to our first hypothesis, …. revenge and avoidance correlated negatively, whereas benevolence correlated positively with presence of meaning in life. … It seems likely that elderly people can find meaning in developing, maintaining, or restoring their social relations. Taking into account the undeniable fact that social interactions offer many psychological benefits to elderly people in terms of personal growth and purpose, it is fully understood that they try to shape them in an affirmative and friendly way; forgiving others and letting go of grudges thus leads to a more satisfactory sense of meaning and significance.”

“The main finding of our study revealed that the religious meaning system can operate as both a mediator and moderator in the relationship of forgiveness with meaning in life. With regard to our second hypothesis, ….  revenge and avoidance motivation were related to lower religious meaning, whereas benevolence was related to higher religious meaning which, in turn, was positively associated with both presence and the search for meaning in life. … These results further confirm that religion can provide a resourceful framework for comprehension of existential problems, among which forgiveness is one.”

“With regard to our third hypothesis, … the stronger an individual’s religious meaning system, the stronger the positive relationship between benevolence and presence of meaning in life. Thus, the religious meaning system can facilitate individuals to explain forgiveness in terms of significance and purpose and establish its connections with meaning in life.”

Researchers conlcude: “These results are very interesting as they point out that people who have a meaningful and purposeful life tend to perceive religion as a source of inspiration and help in their motivation for conciliation and goodwill embedded in their awareness of forgiveness. The results also suggest that when people are in the process of searching for meaning in life, they are more inclined to perceive in religion an encouragement to give up the tendency towards revenge. However, when their need for purpose in life is met, they perceive in religion an encouragement to transform one’s own motivation into benevolence. New research is needed to further investigate these scores.”

Full Study “Interpersonal Forgiveness and Meaning in Life in Older Adults: The Mediating and Moderating Roles of the Religious Meaning System”