Touching the Very Soul: 8 Ways Religion Affects Your Life and General Well-Being

Religion has played a vital role in cultural behaviors, values, and structures since the beginning of recorded history. It is often the force that drives positive change. Many cities and towns are built around churches that are considered social centers as well as retreats in times of trouble. There is also evidence that strong belief systems can have a positive effect on health and well-being. Studies link religious beliefs with benefits that include improved self-confidence, healthier communities, and a sense of belonging.

1) Faith Brings a Feeling of Hope

Thousands of medical and psychiatric studies have been done to determine the link between overall well-being and religion. The research covered faiths from around the globe and focused on shared traits. Approximately 80% of investigations focused on mental health since faith affects how people relate to the world and their roles in it.

Studies show that the most common words connected with religion are hope, optimism, and connectedness. Research subjects reported feeling a deep sense of compassion, gratefulness, and optimism. Ultimately, it appears that the type of worship is not as crucial as its core values. For example, congregants who worship at Radiant Church in Florida demonstrate the same positive qualities as believers halfway around the world, practicing very different faiths.

2) Religion Can Power Good Choices

Most people know what they need to do to lead healthy, productive lives, but making smart choices can be difficult. Staying on track is especially hard in free, consumer-driven cultures where citizens are presented with an overwhelming number of options. As a Time Magazine article recently pointed out, it is easy to become paralyzed by “the paradox of choice,” a theory offered by Swarthmore College Professor Barry Schwartz.

Religious people often avoid the issue because they are guided by their beliefs. Faiths typically forbid a range of harmful activities, which can make it easier for believers to avoid destructive decisions.

3) Believing Helps Reduce Anxiety

There is evidence that believers cope with stress better than those who do not. People who are religious turn to God to soothe negative feelings after they make mistakes. They can deal with life’s setbacks more gracefully because their faith gives them hope. Studies show that atheists do not experience anything similar and tend to be more stressed than those who are religious. Atheists report that they get more stressed when thinking about God and their mistakes.

4) Spirituality Can Improve Overall Well-Being

Research also shows that religious people tend to be healthier in general. As a group, they are more likely to get preventative check ups than the general population. That may because many beliefs teach that it is essential to take care of the physical body. Those who are religious often have more robust social networks that reinforce positive behaviors, like medical checkups. For many, faith can also be essential to healing and good health.

In one study, subjects felt doctors should ask patients about their spiritual preferences. Also, 48% of respondents said they would like physicians to pray with them. Another 37% thought doctors should discuss religious beliefs with patients. Doing so can impact patient recovery, according to Harvard scientist Dr. Herbert Benson. “All forms of prayer, he says, evoke a relaxation response that quells stress, quiets the body, and promotes healing.”

5) Belief May Lower Blood Pressure

According to a 2011 Norwegian study, those who attend church have lower blood pressure, even those living in areas where churchgoers are relatively rare. Research shows that congregants who attended church at least three times each month had blood pressures that were up to two points lower than those who did not. Experts think that believers handle stress and difficulties better and that church services help them lower stress levels.

6) Religion Can Increase Self-Esteem

Strong religious beliefs have been connected to improved self-esteem. Per Forbes, there is evidence that religious people have a more powerful feeling of self-control. Some researchers believe that this is because praying to God for guidance allows believers to control situations better. However, improved self-confidence can depend on where churchgoers live. Their faith is more likely to strengthen them if they reside in areas where religion is universal and considered crucial.

7) Religious People Are Often Happier

People of deep faith generally feel they are living happier lives. Although non-believers may experience the same challenges, believers experience less anxiety and uncertainty when dealing with life. That is because mental and physical health is intimately connected. Religions determine the way people think and act, which can impact their health positively. Those who are depressed and have no tools to cope with feelings may have more health issues. That can decrease their quality of life and shorten their lives.

Although early Christian religions were more concerned with following God’s law than contentment, contemporary faiths often encourage the pursuit of happiness. Some teach the prosperity gospel, and many view happiness as a worthwhile goal. While it is natural to assume that pursuing happiness is selfish, not all religions or spiritual leaders agree. For example, in his book The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama wrote, “…survey after survey has shown that it is unhappy people who tend to be most self-focused and are often socially withdrawn.” Some churches backup happiness doctrines with Bible passages such as, “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

8) Belonging to the Majority Can Matter

Human beings are usually most satisfied when they have a sense of belonging. Studies show that this trait is one of the reasons why people thrive in societies where others share their belief systems. Experts report that the protective aspects of religions work best in cultures where most citizens practice religion. Citizens feel they are not just connecting with God in the best way, but also with their fellow human beings. As a result, believers tend to be happier in countries like the U.S., where religion is more common than not. Believers are part of the majority, which is crucial since research has linked being in the minority with higher stress levels.

Although belief systems around the world vary widely, most provide people with similar positive benefits. Those with deep faith tend to be more satisfied, resilient, and healthier. Deeply rooted belief systems can promote self-esteem and give people a sense of community and belonging that improves their overall well-being.