Being religious improves our sense of wellbeing as we age

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  • Religious people are more likely to have a sense of wellbeing in their old age
  • And the more they pray, the more likely they are to report feeling happiness
  • But the psychological effects of prayer may depend on how people view God
  • Those who see God as ‘loving’ rather than ‘distant’ can find happiness in prayer

Daisy Dunne For Mailonline

Religious people are more likely to have a sense of wellbeing in old age than those who aren’t believers.

And the more often people pray, the more likely they are to report feeling happy, according to a new study.

Scientists found religious people aged 65 and over are more likely to be optimistic, self-assured and content with their everyday lives than those that are non-religious. 

But the psychological effects of prayer depend on how people view God, according to the researchers.

Religious people who see God as ‘loving and intimate’ are much more likely to find happiness in prayer than believers who see God as ‘demanding and distant’.

Religious people are more likely to have a sense of wellbeing in old age than non-believers

Religious people are more likely to have a sense of wellbeing in old age than non-believers

Religious people are more likely to have a sense of wellbeing in old age than non-believers

RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCES MAY BE DOWN TO EPILEPSY   

Having a religious or spiritual experience may be down to epilepsy, scientists suggested in March.

A survey of people who suffer from the condition found a strong correlation between having religious or philosophical thoughts and epilepsy.

The study supports the idea that there could be a neurological link between suffering from epilepsy and having religious episodes, the researchers claim.

In their study, the researchers asked individuals with epilepsy to take two surveys.

The first survey assessed behavior characteristics specifically associated with epilepsy.

The second survey measured religious activities and spiritual orientations.

‘We found a strong correlation between philosophical religious thoughts and epilepsy, but no correlation between emotional thinking and epilepsy,’ said Greyson Holliday, an undergraduate student at Missouri University. 

What did the study find? 

‘What we’re finding is that prayer can be associated with more or less well-being, depending on how you perceive God,’ said researcher Blake Kent, a doctoral candidate in sociology at Baylor University in Texas.

‘In a nutshell, the psychological benefits of prayer seem to be dependent on the quality of a person’s relationship with God.’

For the study, around 1,000 people aged 65 were asked to answer questions about their faith.

Participants were split into three groups, including: practising Christians, former Christians and atheists.

All participants were asked questions that focussed on three measures of wellbeing: optimism, self-esteem and contentment with life.

They were also asked about the nature of their relationship to God. 

The researchers found that people who report to have a high level of trust in God also experienced a sharp increase in wellbeing the more they pray.

For those with an ‘average’ attachment to God, a moderate increase in wellbeing occurs as a result of frequent prayer.

And people that feel ‘distant’ from God experience a decerase in wellbeing after engaging in prayer.

Religious people who see God as 'loving and intimate' are much more likely to find happiness in prayer than believers who see God as 'demanding and distant', according to the new study

Religious people who see God as 'loving and intimate' are much more likely to find happiness in prayer than believers who see God as 'demanding and distant', according to the new study

Religious people who see God as ‘loving and intimate’ are much more likely to find happiness in prayer than believers who see God as ‘demanding and distant’, according to the new study

Does praying make you happy? 

Mr Kent said: ‘Is God seen as safe and secure? Then prayer seems to have a positive benefit.

‘Is God distant, or even untrustworthy? Then it may be a different story.

‘When you can’t trust God, prayer is not associated with confidence in his care, but with uncertainty and anxiety.

‘There is a perception out there that prayer is automatically good for your well-being.

‘That may not be the case for everyone, because such a perception assumes that God is responsive and trustworthy. But many people don’t experience God that way.’

The researchers believe their results suggest people with a strong belief in God could boost their wellbeing by praying regularly.

But those who don’t have a strong belief in God shouldn’t be encouraged to pray as this could lead to a decline in mental health, they added.

The results were published in the the Journal of Ageing and Health.