Poll Shows Positive Relationship Between Religion and Well-Being
Twenty years of research continually points to the “mental health crisis” worsening around the world. While there are many factors that tie into the increased levels of anxiety or depression we are seeing, Gallup and Radiant Foundation considered that religion (as it relates to mental health) has been “largely underexplored.”
So, they conducted a poll on the state of well-being of religious and non-religious individuals. The survey was “an analysis of World Poll data collected over 10 years in 152 countries,” and it included “interviews with approximately 1.5 million people.” The findings showed “a strong association between religiosity and wellbeing.” Notably, the study added to existing evidence that religious people have “better wellbeing” than those who are not religious. As a Christian, I’d like to say this isn’t surprising.
The study polled from a positive experience index and a negative experience index. Religious people consistently ranked better on the positive experience index and only scored worse on the negative experience index, which tracked feeling anxiety, worry, sadness, anger, stress, or physical pain. The lower the number the better, but religious people ranked 31.4 — higher than non-religious people who were at 29.9. It’s also noteworthy that, as the survey emphasized, “each one-point difference represents an effect for an estimated 40 million adults worldwide.” Even a small marginal gap factors in a lot of people.
I’ll admit that I find these results a little surprising. Why would the rates of negative experiences like anxiety be higher among religious people than for non-religious people? But the more I pondered, I realized a few things that may help you as well.
First, this poll was conducted on “religious people,” not just Christians, which could include (and is not limited to) Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, or even satanists. I don’t know if they interviewed satanists, but they could fall under the term “religious.”
Secondly, even if this poll was conducted on people exclusively using the term “Christian,” consider the days in which we are in. Several church bodies have openly turned away from God’s word. On a Sunday morning, we are increasingly seeing LGBT narratives in messages and even the celebration of demonic acts like abortion. Evidently, there are many people using the title “Christian” who do not reflect the truth behind it.
By way of analysis of the positive experience index results, it makes sense that those tied to a religion have a more positive well-being since their religion is likely giving them a sense of greater purpose. Most religious people believe in something after death and at least some supreme being that gives some hope or deeper meaning to life. A non-religious person may experience less positivity in a day since they go through life with many of the same questions a religious person has, but not really any satisfying or hopeful answer for them.
As for the negative experience index results, a similar argument could apply, just with reverse effects. Religion often gives a person reason to put greater emphasis on their daily life as it pertains to life after death. For instance, a religious person who believes in eternal punishment may experience increased levels of worry or anxiety over fear of ending up there. Many religious people are also more aware of sin or religious commands and feel pressured to live perfect lives but are painfully aware that their lives are not perfect. They may suffer from a plague of “not being good enough” and experience anxiety as a result.
On the contrary, a non-religious person often lives ignorant of such “negative” things. If you’ve heard the phrase, “You only live once,” you may have noticed it’s mostly used to justify dumb decisions. A non-religious person commonly lives in their own world, being their own god and living their own truth. Hey, if I believed there was no God to give an account to for my actions no matter what I did, maybe I would experience less anxiety, too. Maybe.
There’s much one could speculate while analyzing these results. Joseph Backholm, senior fellow for Biblical Worldview and Strategic Engagement at Family Research Council, shared some helpful insight. He agreed it’s likely a lot “could be explained by the broad definition of ‘religious people,’” and added that many “religious people” see religion as “doing things that please God.”
He continued, “If you’re aware of your weaknesses but also believe it is your job to earn God’s favor, that can be a discouraging effort. Trying to earn God’s favor through effort has driven a lot of people crazy.” Backholm said it well when he emphasized that the “gospel of grace makes it clear that our efforts will never be good enough to please God.” Because of this, God sent Jesus to be our righteousness through repentance of sin and belief in Him. “Our righteousness is therefore a gift which propels us to obedience out of gratitude,” he added. “That’s very different than trying to earn God’s favor.”
Christians will inevitably feel anxiety, worry, or even depression because we still live in a fallen world. But Romans 8:18 says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Moreover, Jesus said in John 16:33, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” But you won’t get this from the poll.
As Backholm put it, “The fruit of a Christian worldview should be peace and joy despite the circumstances, so if people consider themselves religious but are experiencing disproportionate anxiety, fear, and sadness, there is something they aren’t understanding about God and what He has done for us.”
He concluded, “A good God who controls all things and promises to restore all things should be a great comfort regardless of the circumstances.”
Sarah Holliday is a reporter at The Washington Stand.