Religion is on the rise. Roughly 84% percent of the global population ascribes to a religious group or organisation, with more people becoming believers every day. Essentially, the entire world is getting more religious. But are they getting more optimistic? Perhaps the better question is: does religious belief improve life outlook?
A person’s happiness often depends on how they perceive themselves and their surroundings, so it is possible. However, there’s a lack of institutional knowledge about this topic because there’s little historical research.
Even so, a closer look at the few available studies and their findings may reveal whether religious belief actually does enhance life outlook or whether further research is needed.
Makes people happier
In the US, more than one-third of actively religious adults say they’re very happy, according to 2019 data from Pew Research Center. Meanwhile, just one-quarter of those who are religiously inactive or unaffiliated report being happy.
Most of the countries within this data set were Christian-majority nations where actively religious adults frequently attend religious services. Thus, many researchers attribute their happiness to fellowshipping with other believers, a natural component of their religious beliefs.
Minimises depressive symptoms
Religious beliefs are unable to prevent mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. However, they can minimise depressive symptoms.
While the social aspect of organised religion can alleviate depression, researchers believe making religion an intrinsic part of your life is more effective. In a 2010 study, scientists reported that believing in a caring god improved depressed patients’ responses to psychiatric treatment. Interestingly, their improvement wasn’t tied to their sense of hope or any other factor religion could bestow.
Some people believe their religious doctrine is infallible, which can deliver comfort and soothe anxiety in troubling times. For instance, many Christians believe in the inspiration of scripture, or that the Bible is God-breathed. Consequently, they consider it free of error and take all of God’s promises as truth.
If those verses about God’s provision, protection, and forgiveness are true, then it makes sense that they would improve life outlook and alleviate anxiety.
May improve self-esteem
Depending on where a person lives, their religious beliefs may also improve self-esteem. According to a 2012 study, religious individuals tend to have higher self-esteem and better psychological adjustment.
But this benefit only applies to those living in places where religion is widespread and important. For instance, those in devout Turkey may experience more of a mental boost than those in secular Sweden.
Promotes healing and recovery
Nearly three-fourths of addiction treatment programmes in the US include a spiritual element. Perhaps it’s because religion promotes both healing and recovery for those battling substance abuse disorder and other mental and behavioral conditions.
More than 84% of scientific studies show faith to be a positive factor in prevention or recovery. In many cases, social factors and the structured, ritualistic aspects of religion can also help.
Improves overall life satisfaction
Religion can also give people more life satisfaction. Yet, a brighter outlook doesn’t come from a particular denomination or belief. Rather, it comes from many different aspects of faith, including gathering with other like-minded believers.
The social joys of being part of a regular service are what keep people in a positive mood. Whether at a synagogue, church, or temple, building close networks remains an important part of religious organizations worldwide.
Religion and mental health
Does religious belief improve mental health? Yes, this much is clear. However, psychiatrists are still unsure about why. Perhaps a shift in outlook and perception is a major factor, or maybe it’s the intrinsic belief in something or someone more powerful or divine. Either way, religious belief is helping humans live happier, healthier lives, so it’s no surprise that religion is catching on.
Ginger Abbot has written for The National Alliance for Mental Illness, HerCampus, Motherly, and more. When she’s not freelancing, she works as chief editor for the learning publication Classrooms, where you can read more of her work.