Last week’s column posited that the practice of faith is a cornerstone of healthy societies. Now comes more evidence that the same is true in individual lives.
Two new studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison show that “people who attend Sunday worship not only feel better during the time they are in church, but they are happier throughout the week than non-churchgoers.”
This isn’t new information, of course, but it is confirmation of what researchers long have observed. As one of the new studies itself notes, “Numerous studies have linked religious beliefs and practices to higher levels of life satisfaction and happiness and to lower levels of psychological distress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms.”
One absolutely key component of this – as summed up by one news story on the new studies – is that “spending time in social rituals that reinforce their faith also seems to provide individuals with meaning and positive coping skills that contribute to better mental health.”
I have personally found this – the phenomenon of better coping skills – to be true. I don’t find that faith and religious practice necessarily make better things happen in my little world, but I do find – and observe it in others, too – that when faith-life is strong, the bad things seem more survivable. I think it’s a real phenomenon: With faith, the clouds might not be less dark and the linings may not be any more silver… but … somehow… it is easier to see or comprehend that they are only clouds, rather than the entire, permanently unchanging sky.
With that comprehension comes, I think, a greater ability to recognize possible solutions that someone might not otherwise even see. Indeed, it becomes possible to look at the exact same event and see new possibilities instead of just disaster.
Imagine an injury that, yes, is somewhat painful, and that keeps you from the office just at the time you most need to impress your boss. Without faith, you might see it as disastrous for your future. With faith, you might more easily see it as an opportunity to have the time and privacy you need finally to research and make phone inquiries about some other vocation you have long thought you may want to pursue.
Maybe that’s not a great example. The point remains: Somehow, with faith, someone’s entire mindset often becomes enough more hopeful, and enough more perspicacious, that the person sees potential where others would see only more pain.
Forgive the antiquated reference, but the experience is something like that near the very end of the movie The Poseidon Adventure where the small band of would-be survivors reach the very hull of the upturned ship and find themselves still stuck below solid steel. The 10-year-old boy in the group, though, explains that it’s a sign of hope that they reached that spot in the ship: The hull right at the propeller shaft where they are, he says, is only one inch thick, rather than several inches. Rescuers can more easily hear them at that spot, and more easily cut through the hull to reach them.
And the boy is proved right; the group is rescued for just that reason.
Faith is what provides the perspective of that ten-year-old. Faith allows us to cope and to see possible escape or redemption where it’s not otherwise apparent.
How faith does so is, of course, a mystery. But these new studies, and my own experience, shows this experience to be true.
I find that God rarely reaches down a mighty hand to provide miraculous interventions that make bad situations suddenly better. He does, however – if we allow Him to do so – quietly provide us, ourselves, the perceptiveness and wherewithal to improve those situations or at least to find ways through them. It is an ability that, without faith, we probably would not have, or at least not understand how to exercise.
It is an ability that can make a massive improvement to our lives.
Quin Hillyer is a veteran conservative columnist. He has an undergraduate degree in Theology from Georgetown University and has served for years in various forms of ecumenical lay leadership.