“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.” – Denis Waitley
Religion and spirituality have been promulgated as solutions to the challenges of life both in a transcendent sense and in a practical sense. On a transcendent level western religions promise a better life in an afterlife while eastern practices promise an escape from suffering and the cycle of birth and death. On a more mundane level western religions promise feelings of self-control, compassion, and fulfillment while eastern practices promise greater happiness and mindfulness.
What evidence is there that these claims are in fact true? The transcendent claims are untestable with the scientific method. But, the practical claims are amenable to scientific analysis. There have been a number of studies of the influence of religiosity and spirituality on the physical and psychological well-being of practitioners (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/spirituality/religiosity/) mostly showing positive benefits. In today’s Research News article “Religious and spiritual interventions in mental health care: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials”
Gonçalves and colleagues review the published literature on the effects of randomized controlled trials of religious and spiritual practices on psychological health. In these studies the spiritual practices involved ”themes such as moral values, belief in a ‘high power’, coping and transcendence, and others in the form of therapeutic models, audiovisual resources and meditation. Religious approaches explored the beliefs and specific traditions of Catholics, Jews and Muslims, conducted in pastoral services and therapeutic models.” The studies compared the results of the interventions to the results of secular therapy, disease education, or wait list controls.
They found that religious or spiritual interventions produced significant improvements in psychological health, particularly in anxiety levels. The interventions that included meditation or psychotherapy were especially effective. These results, summarizing the literature on active interventions that were either religious or spiritual in orientation, clearly show that these practices have mental health benefits in comparison to secular interventions. It is important to note that in these studies groups were randomly assigned and active interventions employed. It is thus reasonable to conclude that the religious or spiritual practices were the cause of improved mental health. Hence, scientific analysis was able to confirm some practical psychological benefits of religious and spiritual practices.
So, engage in religious and/or spiritual practices to improve mental health.
“The world sometimes feels like an insane asylum. You can decide whether you want to be an inmate or pick up your visitor’s badge. You can be in the world but not engage in the melodrama of it; you can become a spiritual being having a human experience thoroughly and fully.” – Deepak Chopra
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies