Published On: Wed, Jun 22nd, 2016

What Science Says About the Benefits of Having Faith

Across the globe and for thousands of years, faith and religion have influenced cultures, pastimes, and personalities. Although the general level of support for religion tends to both wax and wane over time, many people still find that faith not only brings them joy, but also comforts them when they are in pain. An essential component of faith is that it is unseen, so it isn’t fully possible to quantify. However, some scientific evidence does illustrate its benefits. Multiple studies have found that faith can be a protective factor and a coping mechanism against certain mental health issues.

Faith and Happiness

According to a study of European adults published in 2015, having faith and being involved in religious activities is correlated with lower rates of depression symptoms. The scientists who conducted the study believe that this is due to the social component of attending church and other associated groups.

It is important to note, however, that the social component is not solely responsible for the results. Participants in the study who were involved only in non-religious social activities showed higher rates of depression symptoms. The scientists suggested that there may be something about religious involvement specifically that lessens the likelihood of experiencing depression symptoms.

photo Simon Dean Media via Flickr

photo Simon Dean Media via Flickr

Behind the Results

Why might these effects be present? Some research suggests that subscribing to a religion leads people to believe that their lives have meaning and purpose. People who believe in a higher power tend to place life’s negative aspects, from minor disappointments to gut-wrenching tragedies, into a broader perspective.

When faced with undesirable circumstances, people with faith are likely to believe that God has an ultimate plan for them, even if they do not understand it yet. Others might try to translate their sadness into becoming stronger or more compassionate people. Another common coping mechanism is the belief that beyond all of the pain of this life lies eternal happiness in Heaven, as long as you can make it there.

The lifestyle practices associated with belief also lead to improved mental health. Prayer and meditation offer opportunities to unwind from stress, work through anxiety, and reflect on life overall. These behaviors are also observed in mindfulness, an exercise that is used both as a standalone wellness practice and as a component of treatment in several mental health conditions.

Frank Turek's "I Dont have enough faith to be an atheist"

Frank Turek’s “I Dont have enough faith to be an atheist”

Since people who are religious tend to pray with some at least some degree of regularity, the positive effects of prayer are sustained across time, which may explain why the positive effects of religion appear stronger than those of other group activities. Prayer also provides people with comfort in times of crisis. Being able to turn to prayer in frightening situations gives people feelings of control, or at least relief. When prayers are answered according to request, it reinforces the positive feelings associated with praying in the first place.

The social support associated with religious behavior is also a significant component of these results. Being involved in a church community automatically creates a sense of belonging, and it is also likely to be a source for friendships.

Even people who do not attend brick-and-mortar churches can experience these benefits via the internet. Groups like The Way International that have virtual extensions provide support on multiple levels, from education about religion to social support for people to grow in their faith. They even provide inspirational content through their Twitter account. People who have access to the outreach of this and other such groups have several buffers against factors that can increase the risk for depression.

Faith and Other Mental Health Issues

Depression is not the only mental health condition that can be relieved somewhat by practices of faith. One study found that people with bipolar disorder who used religion as a positive coping mechanism had a better quality of life. The scientists in this study posit that people’s innate degree of religiosity is an important factor in their personalities, and therapists should incorporate it into treatment.

A later study suggested that bipolar patients who were more intrinsically religious were less likely to engage in suicidal behaviors. The scientists who conducted this study claim that these links should be studied further for greater understanding. Other research has found that religious behavior can lead to improved outcomes for people with substance abuse disorders. In the wake of these findings, more researchers should delve into this area in order to build a larger body of knowledge that can further influence mental health treatment.

A Truth Worth Considering

People who are not religious may interpret the results of these studies to mean that it is the practices associated with faith that lead to increased optimism and feelings of contentment. People who do practice religion might say that it is through these practices that they cultivate authentic connections with God, and that it is because of this connection that they experience positive effects. No matter what your perspective is, it is safe to say that there are strong benefits to having faith, and that in itself is worthy of extensive consideration.

Guest Author: Lolita Di

photo condesign via Pixabay

photo condesign via Pixabay

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