John Lennon once urged us to imagine how our lives would be with no religion. Today we don’t have to imagine it, because the answer is clear: we would be less happy.
For users of Facebook and numerous other social media, the expression, “spiritual, not religious” is pretty well known. It is a self-descriptive phrase especially common among 18-29 year-olds. But according to a new study, those who identify with this expression are generally less happy than those who define themselves as religious.
It’s interesting that those who wish to find greater happiness by separating themselves from organized religion, actually put that happiness at risk.
I understand why many people are turned off to the idea of organized religion, particularly with all of the recent infighting and outrage over subjects such as abortion, homosexuality and pedophilia. It seems reasonable to run away from all of this drama. But still, “spiritual, not religious” people are less happy than those who are religious. It seems counter-intuitive, doesn’t it?
People who describe themselves as “spiritual, not religious” do have a personal awareness of the importance of spirituality – whatever their particular faith tradition or belief set. They typically eschew the strictures of religion, though, and have a tendency to define spirituality in a way that suits themselves. The concept of organized religion is not a part of that definition.
Some may say this is overtly self-serving. Others say it is a form of self-indulgent humanism. And those who identify themselves “spiritual, not religious” often respond by saying, “whatEVerrrr.” But at least two social scientists have determined that those who are religious – people who attend religious services at least once a week – define themselves as nearly twice as happy as those who do not.
And here’s a warning: don’t make the mistake of thinking they’re happier just because they have a good social network. That’s not it. It’s also not necessarily because they think about God, feel his presence or pray more frequently. Religious people are happier because religion is a significant part of their sense of self, and worshiping regularly with others enhances their happiness significantly.
Hey, don’t give me that look… give it to Chaeyoon Lim and Robert Putnam, of Harvard University. They’re the ones who did the study. Not enough for you? A recent edition of Scientific American Mind refers to another study by the National Opinion Research Center which queried over 43,000 Americans; their research showed the same results.
Look, I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t be “spiritual, not religious.” But I am asking you to consider the facts: people who identify themselves as religious – who attend worship with their friends at least weekly – are nearly twice as happy as those who do not.
It’s one place in which independence or even skepticism can be hurtful.
Please be assured that I am in favor of your search, as long as you are actively searching. I look forward to your success, as long as you continue to grow. And I do hope for your happiness, no strings attached. But all I can do from this side of the iPad is urge you to reconsider your definition of religion. Hold on to your spirituality, but find others with whom to share it, and share it regularly.
Spirituality, faith and religion are all parts of what make us human. Just be aware of the fact that being fully human is not something you can do on your own.