The study comes to us from a highly reputable place, the London School of Economics, along with the Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands. It concludes that, Christopher Hitchens notwithstanding, religion does not poison everything. In fact, religion contributes to your “sustained happiness.” Can atheism make the same claim?
And, interestingly, religion is better at it than other forms of social participation. One hastens to mention that the study was performed on subjects who were over 50 years of age.
Sarah Pulliam Bailey reports in the Washington Post:
“The church appears to play a very important social role in keeping depression at bay and also as a coping mechanism during periods of illness in later life,” Mauricio Avendano, an epidemiologist at LSE and an author of the study, said in a statement. “It is not clear to us how much this is about religion per se, or whether it may be about the sense of belonging and not being socially isolated.”
Fair enough. And yet, when the researchers compared religion to other social engagements, it found that religion served people the best:
Researchers looked at four areas: 1) volunteering or working with a charity; 2) taking educational courses; 3) participating in religious organizations; 4) participating in a political or community organization. Of the four, participating in a religious organization was the only social activity associated with sustained happiness, researchers found….
Unfortunately, those who joined political or community organizations found that the happiness they gains dissipated over time. Some even found themselves more depressed afterwards:
The report that studied older Europeans also found that joining political or community organizations lost their benefits over time. In fact, the short-term benefits from those social connections often lead to depressive symptoms later on, researchers say.
And, volunteering did not help very much either:
Although healthier people are more likely to volunteer, the researchers found no evidence that volunteering actually leads to better mental health. Benefits could be outweighed by other negative impacts of volunteering, such as stress, Avendano said.
Why does religion seem to help people more than these other forms of social activity? The researchers do not know:
The researchers noted that it is unclear whether the benefits of participating in a religious organization are connected to being in the religious community, or to the faith itself.