Religious people would like to think that their belief makes them happier and healthier. But is there any evidence of this?
I have trawled the internet and found there is a growing interest in this subject. I have found more than 30 medical research papers or books, most of them from the past decade. They present a very clear picture.
Medical practitioners want to do their best for their patients. Increasingly, they are recognising that treating people simply as physical beings is selling them and their health short – people are complex physical, emotional, spiritual (however that word may be defined) beings, and treating patients holistically may give better health outcomes.
Therefore in recent years, many researchers have focused on how faith, church attendance, religious activity, spirituality and prayer effect wellbeing, which includes physical and mental health, behaviour and happiness.
The results are almost unanimous, with only a few studies giving different conclusions. Religious belief or faith has a positive impact on all measures of wellbeing:
- Physical health
- Worry and stress
- Anxiety, depression and suicide
- Destructive and anti-social behaviour
- Happiness and general mental health
What can we learn?
It isn’t clear whether belief is the cause of these positive results, or if there is some other coincidental cause such as social support systems. But psychologist David Larsen writes:
If a new health treatment were discovered that helped reduce the rate of teenage suicide, prevent drug and alcohol abuse, improve treatment for depression, reduce recovery time from surgery, lower divorce rates and enhance a sense of wellbeing, one would think that every physician in the country would be scrambling to try it.
Does this say anything about God?
There is no way to prove that these positive outcomes show that God exists. But it is is hard to deny that the results do more to support belief in the existence of God than they do to undermine belief.
Read the fine print