“A new nationwide study of obituaries has found that people with religious affiliations lived nearly four years longer than those with no ties to religion.
“That four-year boost — found in an analysis of more than 1,000 obits from around the country — was calculated after taking into account the sex and marital status of those who died, two factors that have strong effects on lifespan.” (Ohio State University study published in the journal, Social Psychological and Personality Science.)
Positivity and Meaning
Many factors probably contribute to this longer lifespan. It’s long been known that happiness and positivity in general contribute to better health. With the focused positivity of many faith teachings and the belief that one’s existence doesn’t end with death, some studies (not all) show that religious people report feeling hopeful and happy. Is this tied to their belief that every life is valuable and their own lives are rich in meaning?
Belonging to Community
Another aspect is community. Religious people are more likely to feel they belong to community and we know that belonging to community is good for one’s health. Religion itself tends to have the ingredients that create community. Some studies show that religion strengthens community.
“…I think religion contributes to strong communities in three fundamental ways. First, religion provides spiritual, social, psychological and often material support for individuals and families. Since religion deals in “ultimate” matters, it helps people make sense of their lives, as well as their role in their families and in their communities.” (Richard Flory, a senior research associate at the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture.)
Over the years C.R. and I have volunteered for community organizations that provide material and emotional support to youth and others for the elderly, many of whom are ill or struggling with other challenging issues. C.R.’s work in faith-based programs has been as meaningful for her as it is to the people she’s volunteered to work with. Volunteerism is good for the volunteers’ health too.
For me, helping others has become part of who I am. Even though I am in a helping profession, I often find myself called on to help others during my time off. In fact, because so much of my work day is far more involved with policy and business matters and less involved in helping people one on one than it used to be, I appreciate the opportunity I have to make that human connection. I find that for many, if not most of my friends and community members, making a commitment to helping others forms a significant part of (though not all) of our leisure time.
Connection and Important Life Events
The support of community can be an important key to feeling positive and happy in general, especially when going through important life events. Having the love and support of community when celebrating (getting married, for example), can be as meaningful as having the love and support of community when going through hard times. In many faith-based communities, sharing in the joys and sorrows of community members leads to an extended sense of family, so important in these times where many families live far apart or are broken. That sense of connection can make the difference between feeling alone and feeling connected, feeling hopeful and feeling distraught.
People who live long “avoid serious ailments altogether through a series of steps that often rely on long-lasting, meaningful connections with others, says University of California, Riverside, psychologist Howard S. Friedman, PhD, co-author with Leslie Martin, PhD, of the 2011 book “The Longevity Project.” While it’s true that long-lasting and meaningful connections with others does occur in many faith communities, they do also occur among non-religious friends and families.
Other healthy practices are also generally a part of religious life, at least in the major world religions. Generally speaking, most major religions discourage the use of drugs (including tobacco) and alcohol, obviously a healthy practice, and encourage having a stable, long-term partner, which also is generally considered to be part of a healthier life style.
Spiritual practices are also shown to be health-supporting, practices such as gratitude, meditation and of course prayer. Making time to connect and be in touch with your own soul, offers solace, joy, and inspiration. Taking time to reflect and speak from the heart, whether to the Creator or like-minded companions, can help you de-stress as well as uplift. Remembering that faith takes over where knowledge reaches it’s human limits can offer comfort as well as personal growth.