A new report called ‘Faith and Wellness’ confirms that religious people are more positive in their mentality, have more social support and are more involved in their communities.
“An estimated 160 million more adults have positive experiences than would be the case if those adults were not religious.”, says the report, which is based on data collected from 2012 to 2022 by Gallup and also on a review of academic studies.
The study highlights five key factors of spirituality that positively influence wellbeing: 1) positive coping and a sense of purpose in life; 2) faith-based social connections; 3) community and civic engagement; 4) structural stability; and 5) workplace support of holistic wellbeing.
Religion often provides individuals with effective coping mechanisms and a profound sense of purpose in life. This aspect of spirituality can be particularly helpful in managing stress and navigating life’s challenges, contributing to overall mental and emotional well-being, says the report.
(Professor Patricia Casey produced for the Iona Institute a paper on this topic, called “The Psycho-Social Benefits of Religious Practice.)
Moreover, spiritual communities often offer robust social support networks. The sense of belonging and community found in these groups can be a significant source of emotional assistance, helping individuals to feel connected and supported.
“When spiritual life is shared, you’re at an 82pc decreased relative risk of suicide, 80pc decreased risk of addiction, and a 75pc decreased risk of depression … If this was a pill, who wouldn’t take that?”, commented Lisa Miller, Professor of Psychology and Education at Columbia University.
The ‘Faith and Wellness’ report highlights the positive role of “structural stability”, which refers to the fact that many spiritual traditions offer frameworks for moral and ethical decision-making, aiding individuals in navigating complex life situations and contributing to a sense of clarity and direction.
An analysis of data from the Gallup World Poll found that people of faith scored better than non-religious in five out of nine wellbeing measures. These are: social life (having a support structure and opportunity to make friends), positive experience (self-reported well-being), community basics (everyday life in a community), optimism (positive attitude towards the future) and civic engagement (inclination to volunteer and help others).
This last measure, the relationship between religion and civic engagement, was explored by the ‘Faith and Wellness’ report.
Many religious teachings emphasise the importance of being part of a larger community, which includes caring for those around you, especially those in need. This emphasis on altruism and assisting others not only serves societal functions related to the economy and public service but also creates opportunities for social networking and personal growth. Individuals with connections to religious communities, such as having “church friends”, are found to demonstrate more altruistic behaviours.
“Several studies have found a link between volunteering or membership in a voluntary association and measures of mental health, including depression and distress, especially among older adults. For the most part, these studies indicate that caring for others generates positive emotions, which in turn increases one’s mental health and wellbeing”, says the report.
Finally, the ‘Faith and Wellness’ report addresses a striking paradox: Despite the established positive benefits of spirituality and religion to health and wellbeing, there is a notable decline in these practices in many parts of the world.
“Why are people turning away from a practice that can provide positive benefits to their lives?”, the report asks.
One contributing factor to this trend seems to be a lack of awareness. Many are not well informed about the mental and physical health benefits of a spiritual life.