The most interesting scientific studies I read related to the science of happiness were on the relationship between spirituality and happiness. Spirituality is the belief in something bigger than ourselves that our life has deep purpose and meaning, and that nature, the divine, and humanity are all connected.
Recently a panel that reviewed the findings of the meta-study ran by Harvard Chan School and published in the Journal of the American medical association concluded that for a generally healthy person, “spiritual community participation” (attending religious services, for example) is linked to a healthier life, greater longevity, better mental health, and less substance use. In another study, The Mayo Clinic followed 4,000 people for four years and found that those who attended church weekly had a 28 percent lower mortality rate overall when compared to those who did not belong to a church community.
So, Is God kinder and more compassionate for the ones that believe in Him and pray? It might be, but there are also more rational explanations as to why spirituality and attending religious services strongly correlate with happiness and health. Spiritual people have a deep sense of purpose, gratitude toward life, and usually a robust social support network. Faith also helps them deal better with negative emotions, and they are also less prone to engage in risky behavior (crime and addiction). Also, prayer is one of the most ancient forms of mindfulness meditation. Some religions have traditions that give them a break from technology and strengthen family ties (ex., Jewish sabbath).
Some benefits of the spiritual life can also be found in our relationship with nature. Nature provides some of the same benefits of spiritual life. The Japanese practice of Shirin-Yoku (nature bathing, walking in nature) has proven to reduce stress and anxiety, reduce blood pressure and cause your body to produce hormones that will make you sleep better. Studies have found that simply spending 10 to 20 minutes a day outdoors can lead to increased well-being and happiness.
So, whether you believe in God or not, practice a religion or not, find your spirituality. Don't wait until life asks you to find strength in something bigger than yourself. Learn about different religions, meditate, and find awe and beauty in nature. Be it in God, in nature, or within yourself, finding your sense of purpose and belonging in this world will make you live better and longer.
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