Believers Have Less Suffering, More Hope, and Volunteer More: Studies
New studies from the world’s leading research institutions show that Christians who actively practice their faith are less likely to become unhappy during times of global crisis and isolation, more hopeful, and more likely to lend a hand to their fellow citizens.
Two studies showed that religious believers in the U.K. suffered less during the COVID-19 pandemic — and the stronger their faith, the less they suffered. Meanwhile, a third survey in the U.S. found that regular churchgoers were the least likely Americans to describe themselves as lonely, far more likely to be satisfied with life, and to volunteer for charity in more normal times.
“[B]eing religious significantly reduces the negative mental health outcomes associated with Covid-19” concluded researchers based in the U.K., Australia, and India. Strong faith decreased suffering during a COVID infection by 60%. While researchers attempted to control for such apparently intersectionality-based criteria as race, sex, and employment status, “only religiosity has a significant ameliorating effect of covid on mental health,” they found.
But that advantage is “strongly driven by attendance at religious services,” and not just by prayer or mental belief. Areas with “higher lockdown strictness,” which prevented Christians from attending in-person worship services, “eroded any benefits that emanated from being religious.” Yet even attendance at online services modestly lessened people’s suffering, they found.
People who seriously practiced their faith suffered less during the pandemic lockdown in the U.K., according to another study. “[R]eligious people (in that it makes a difference to their life) were around one-fifth less likely to suffer an increase in unhappiness or depression” during the pandemic.
But church attendance also impacted British believers, researchers stated. The U.K. implemented more sweeping measures than the United States, closing churches altogether. “[W]hen places of worship were closed, religious Muslims and Catholics suffered disproportionately,” as both faiths stress weekly attendance at religious services.
“The recent U.K. studies that correlate religion and happiness are not surprising. It is also not surprising that church closures correlate with higher degrees of unhappiness,” David Closson, director of the Center for Biblical Worldview at Family Research Council, told The Washington Stand.
“As relational beings, humans are meant to live in community. Lockdowns deprived people of connections with other people,” which caused people to “suffer emotionally, physically, and even spiritually,” said Closson, who discussed other aspects of the Pew survey on “Washington Watch with Tony Perkins.” Closson said the correlation makes sense, because “human nature consists of spiritual and physical components.”
“The churches that either refused to close or opened quickly provided opportunities for the spiritual and physical encouragement that comes with being in physical proximity to other people,” Clossen told TWS.
Christians are also likely to be satisfied with life, to volunteer and be engaged in civic affairs, and to feel more hopeful than Nones, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. Those who attend services at least monthly are nearly 50% more likely to say they feel hopeful and are about half as likely to feel lonely as atheists. The most active Christians are also 58% more likely to volunteer than those who call themselves “Nones,” Regular churchgoers are the most likely to say they are satisfied with their own life, their family, and community life. Christians who go to church at least monthly are also nearly twice as likely to volunteer at non-religious charities than those who say their religion is “nothing in particular.”
Christians who attend church regularly are slightly more likely to vote or contact their representatives. But atheists are actually modestly more likely to follow the news and public affairs than churchgoers.
The three teams of researchers merely confirmed what numerous prior studies established: People who believe in and live a Christian way of life enjoy longer, better, more prosperous, and less stressful lives:
- Biden administration Surgeon General Vivek Murthy warned in 2023 that Americans’ “health may be undermined” by not attending religious services.
- A 2023 study concluded that “religious practice has significant effects” on the likelihood of dying from suicides, drug poisonings, and alcoholic liver disease.
- A 2023 study discovered “religious Americans tend to believe their life is meaningful more often than do those who are not religious.”
- Another 2023 poll found Americans who believe in God and value marriage are more likely to be “very happy” than non-believers and single people.
- Yet another 2023 poll found that 82% of Christians are optimistic and take pride in their church.
- A 2023 study concluded that practicing Christians who regularly read the Bible report a higher score on the Human Flourishing Index — which measures “happiness & life satisfaction,” “mental & physical health,” “meaning & purpose,” “character & virtue,” “close societal relationships” and “financial & material stability” — than non-practicing Christians or the Nones/religiously unaffiliated.
- Pew found in 2019 that Americans who attended religious services regularly were 44% more likely to say they were “very happy” than the religiously inactive.
- A 2019 study found “robust effects of religiosity on depression that are stronger for the most depressed.”
- A 2018 study from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health announced that “people who attended weekly religious services or practiced daily prayer or meditation in their youth reported greater life satisfaction and positivity in their 20s — and were less likely to subsequently have depressive symptoms, smoke, use illicit drugs, or have a sexually transmitted infection — than people raised with less regular spiritual habits.”
The secret may come, in part, from distinctive Christian teachings about life and attitude. The Bible encourages believers “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine” (Proverbs 17:22). It says Christians who acquire the Holy Spirit will bear such fruit as joy, peace, and longsuffering (Galatians 5:22-23). The greatest virtue, Christian love, “bears all things … hopes all things, endures all things” (I Corinthians 13).
Yet the lockdowns indisputably damaged the churches that gave citizens the strength and resilience to shoulder adversity. Although individual donors increased their financial contributions, Protestant churches have 10% less spending power today than pre-pandemic, according to a November 2023 study from Villanova University. Roman Catholic parishes saw an 11% drop in spending power.
“Free societies depend on vibrant mediating institutions, namely those that are intermediate between the individual and the state. They include the family, church, and voluntary organizations,” said Catholic League President Bill Donohue. “The data indicate that the religiously involved are a net plus to society; the religiously unaffiliated are a net minus.”
Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.