“I study how forgiveness affects your mental and physical health,” Toussaint says. “I also research broader aspects of spirituality, religiousness, and well-being. My main focus, however, is on forgiveness as a psycho-spiritual phenomenon that is related to health and wellness.”
Toussaint feels fortunate to have found a topic that he’s astounded by even after 20 years of studying it. “I know that when I feel unforgiving, I can quite literally feel it erode my mental and physical well-being,” he says. “Our experience with being unforgiving and its negative ramifications haven't changed in the same 20 years, or even 2000. Forgiveness is a fundamental part of being human and it is one of the only social phenomena that allows us to co-exist with other imperfect creatures who we often call family and friends.”
Although he’s worked with other researchers to publish and present papers at different conferences, the project he feels is most interesting is one that looks at the entirety of research on forgiveness and health over the past 25 years. “It’s a chapter for the second edition of the Handbook of Forgiveness,” he says. “It reviews over 50 published research articles on forgiveness and health and tries to draw conclusions about what we know and what we need to know going forward. I'm also really intrigued by some projects current students are doing in the lab on cross-cultural differences in forgiveness, people’s perceptions of a forgiving person, and the role of forgiveness in societal tragedies (e.g., natural and man-made disasters)."
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."
“I love learning about psychology and health and sharing it with the next generation of movers and shakers in the world. These folks will make a difference, and I’m happy that I get to be a part of shaping that.”
“I enjoy hiking, walking, and biking and generally being out in Decorah's wonderful natural environment. I most of all love to be with my wife and kids doing just about anything. And I really enjoy doing the science of psychology. Yes, it’s a hobby of sorts, too.”