Being Part of a Religious Organization Improves your Mental Health?

A study shows that a religious organization can make a noticeable difference in your life that even secularists see as positive.

As a Christian, I am not completely on board with this study, reported by the Oregonian. I don’t believe that joining a mosque, a synagogue, and a Christian church can convey the same benefits. I would like to see the data broken down by religion and by theological commitment (i.e. theologically liberal “Chrisitans” versus Christians who affirm the basic tenets of the Christian Faith).

But in an age when secularists want to claim they are smarter than believers, or that Liberals are smarter than Conservatives, it is nice to see such findings: “Religion is better for mental health than volunteering or sports, study says.”

A new study suggests joining a religious organization is better for mental health than volunteering or playing sports.

The same study found that joining a community organization, such as a political club, actually decreased happiness in the long run.

The study, conducted by researchers at the London School of Economics and the Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands, was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology this spring.

Researchers focused on European adults ages 50 and above. They looked at data for 9,000 people, analyzing ways different social activities influenced the subjects’ moods. Researchers put the social activities into four categories:

  1. Volunteering or charitable work
  2. Taking educational or training courses
  3. Participation in religious organizations
  4. Participation in political or community organizations

Participating in a religious organization was the only social activity associated with sustained happiness. Past studies have shown that being socially engaged is good for mental health, but this new study suggests that the benefits might vary between activities.

“One of the most puzzling findings is that although healthier people are more likely to volunteer, we found no evidence that volunteering actually leads to better mental health,” Mauricio Avendano said in a press release. “It may be that any benefits are outweighed by other negative impacts of volunteering, such as stress.”

It’s not clear whether the benefits come from faith itself or from being in a religious community, researchers said in the study.

But if the benefits come from the community, then why don’t other communities have the same benefits? Either the faith itself is part of the reason for the benefits, or the faith forms communities in unique ways that alone can give the benefits. In the latter case, the benefits still come from faith though perhaps more indirectly. But this still points out the uniqueness of faith.

Almost as if Human beings were designed to worship and trust in their personal creator. Imagine that!