They say money can’t buy happiness. Scientists say happiness is not a byproduct of success, popularity or smarts. So, what can make you happy for extended periods of time? Try religion.
According to a new study by scientists from two European schools, the London School of Economics and Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands, participating in a religion is more likely to bring about sustained happiness than anything else they considered, including volunteering and playing sports.
Researchers were interested particularly in how participating in sports, education, religion and volunteering impacted mental health—especially during times of stress. All those activities long have been thought to help people stay happy and balanced; but according to this study, no other activity came close to providing the benefit that participating in religion did.
“The church appears to play a very important social role in keeping depression at bay and as a coping mechanism during periods of illness in later life,” said Mauricio Avendano, an epidemiologist at the London School of Economics.
It’s not the first study to show the tangible benefits of religion. Polls consistently show that religious people are happier than agnostics or atheists. Faith has been shown to raise self-esteem, ease anxiety and lower blood pressure. One study in 2012 found that religion can help you resist the temptation of junk food.
Scientists debate why religion seems to be so good for you. Some say it has something to do with having a ready-made support structure—a community that can help you when times get rough. Others point out that a belief in God gives believers a sense of greater belonging in the world.
Talk About It:
Do you think you’re happier because of your faith? Why? What’s the best part of church or your youth group? Can you think of someone who might be helped by coming to church?
As helpful as religion seems to be statistically, it’s not a cure-all. It doesn’t take away your problems, but faith in God can help you deal with those problems a little better. Can you think of when your faith helped you deal with a difficult, stressful time? When? Does it help to pray when you’re feeling down?
Though the study said religion by far was the activity most likely to foster sustained happiness, other activities can help, too. What other activities help you stay mentally balanced and happy? Does exercise help you? Spending time with family or friends? Listening to music? Reading a book?
What the Bible Says:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Phil. 4:4).
“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4).
“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation” (Isa. 12:2).
“Through Him we also have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:2).
Paul Asay has written for Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. He writes about culture for Plugged In and has published several books, including his newest, Burning Bush 2.0 (Abingdon), available now. He lives in Colorado Springs. Check out his entertainment blog at Patheos.com/Blogs/WatchingGod or follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.