The study of a nationally representative sample of 1,423 Americans conducted by the university's Institute for Social Research also found that while nearly 60 percent of those surveyed said they had forgiven themselves, only 43 percent said they had actively sought forgiveness for harm they have done.
Older people were more likely than younger ones to feel forgiven by God, although respondents of all ages reported feeling high levels of divine forgiveness. That finding "slightly surprised" Loren Toussaint, a psychologist who is the lead author of the study report published in the Journal of Adult Development in October.
"I think all of us, at one time or another, when we've made the same mistakes over and over again, have felt that we must be a disappointment in God's eyes," he said. "Yet there's a remarkably high level of confidence across the country that God forgives us, compared to a much lower level of forgiveness of oneself and others."
About 80 percent of adults aged 45 and older said they knew that God forgave them for their sins and that this knowledge strengthened them in facing their faults and being better people, compared with 69 percent of adults 44 and younger.
Researchers discovered that some kinds of forgiveness led to negative outcomes.
"High levels of `proactive forgiveness,' which involves asking forgiveness from someone you've hurt, asking God to forgive you, or praying to God to forgive someone who has hurt you, were strongly linked with high levels of psychological distress," said Toussaint, who is currently affiliated with Idaho State University.
The study was funded by the Fetzer Institute as part of the John Templeton Foundation campaign for forgiveness, the National Institute of Mental Health and the University of Michigan Office of the Vice President for Research.