Opinion

OPINION: 12 Ways Religion Can Boost Well-Being

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Benefits of religion become cliché when speaking about family, values and community building. While all those are true, there are many real, well-studied aspects of religion that don’t get enough attention.

Some of these benefits, such as gratitude, don’t require religion, but the faithful will find themselves practicing it more often. So here we go:

1. Life Expectancy — studies have shown that participation in a religious house of worship more than once a week extends life expectancy by seven years. When I tell this to people after my own sermon, they ask humorously, “Does it actually get longer by seven years or does everything just seem seven years longer?

Astonishing findings published recently in Time Magazine found that “women who went to any kind of religious service more than once a week had a 33percent lower chance than their secular peers of dying during the 16-year study follow-up period.

Another study, published last year in PLOS One, found that regular service attendance was linked to reductions in the body’s stress responses and even in mortality — so much so that worshippers were 55-percent less likely to die during the up to 18-year follow-up period than people who didn’t frequent the temple, church or mosque.”

Those findings are huge and deserve greater attention.

2. Better Immune System — A study conducted by Duke University linked attending religious services to a better immune system. The study found that “in a study of 1,718 older adults in North Carolina, Dr. Harold Koenig and Dr. Harvey Cohen found that those who attended services at least once a week were about half as likely as non-attenders to have elevated levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), an immune system protein involved in a wide array of age-related diseases.”

As it turns out, believing the Lord is your Shephard (Psalm 23) can leave its mark.

3. Wealth — MIT economist Jonathan Gruber found in his studies that: Doubling the rate of religious attendance raises household income by 9.1 percent, decreases welfare participation by 16 percent from baseline rates, decreases the odds of being divorced by 4 percent  and increases the odds of being married by 4.4 percent.”

In fact, according to sociologist Randy Stark, religion saves the American economy up to $2.6 trillion (!) a year.

4. Blood Pressure — Religious individuals are less likely to suffer from high blood pressure. This finding is especially important among older individuals among whom high blood pressure can be of greater concern.

5. Life Satisfaction — A study published by the American Sociological Association found that religious people are likely to enjoy higher life satisfaction and better social connections. While this seems counterintuitive when looking at some of the restrictions religion can impose at times, at the end of the day it is the religious people who are likelier to have a higher life satisfaction.

6. Loneliness — Yes, you guessed it. Believing in God makes people less lonely and with a greater desire to live.

It is important to point out that it was also noted that “these results certainly do not suggest that people should rely upon religion or God for purpose over people. Quality human connections are still a primary and enduring source of purpose in life.”

7. Education Rates — Youth who attend a house of worship are more likely to graduate college.

8. Depression — A Columbia University study found that “offspring who reported at year 10 that religion or spirituality was highly important to them had about one-fourth the risk of experiencing major depression between years 10 and 20 compared with other participants.”

That is 75-percent less than average. The link between religion and decreased depression was repeated in various other studies.

9. Happiness — Who doesn’t want to be happy? Well, studies show religious people tend to be happier than those who are not religious. Is it the jokes in the sermons or the friendships made in the house of worship? Either way, it works.

The exception? Studies show that if you live in Sweden or Denmark being religious does not make you happier.

10. Gratitude — much has been written on the many benefits of gratitude. Well, easy to see this one coming, though research does support it. Religious people are more grateful and experience gratitude more often than others.

11. Sexually Transmitted Diseases — not hard to explain. This study details how religious people who typically find themselves more often in long-term monogamous relationships are less likely to get STDs.

12. Crime — Studies show that youth who attend religious services are less likely to be juvenile delinquents and are less likely to commit even petty crimes. The same is true for religious adults who are also less likely to commit crimes. Interestingly, those who define themselves as “religious” are less likely to commit crimes than those who define themselves as “spiritual”.

In a world where religion is belittled and demeaned so often, it is important to note the powerful upsides of religion as well.

Rabbi Elchanan Poupko is a rabbi, teacher, and bipartisanship activist. His recent TEDx talk The High Price of Political Polarization focused on the impact polarization has on society. He lives with his wife in New York City


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.