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Those Regularly Attending Religious Services Are More Optimistic

Churchgoers are more likely to be optimistic. A new study published in the Journal of Religion and Health, found that those women who attend church, synagogue or any other religious service regularly have better chances of having a positive outlook on life and a lower risk of having depression.

The Women’s Health Initiative observational study conducted by Yeshiva University in Manhattan is based on a survey of 92,539 post-menopausal women from diverse backgrounds and over the age of 50. It found that those who attend religious services regularly are 56 percent more likely to have an optimistic view of life and 27 percent less likely to have depression than those who don’t.

“We looked at the religious practices of nearly 100,000 women and – like it or not – found a strong connection between going to church or synagogue or any other house of worship and a positive outlook on life,” Medical News Today quoted Eliezer Schnall, an associate professor of psychology at Yeshiva University who headed the research. He cautions, “There is a correlation, but that does not mean there is causality. One could argue people who are more optimistic may be drawn to religious services.”

In response to questions asked when they enrolled in the study, 34 percent of the women said they had not attended services in the previous month, 21 percent attended less than once a week, 30 percent attended weekly, and 14 percent more than once week. Schnall said there was no “dose response” when it comes to frequency of attending religious services and mental health; it was regular attendance as opposed to frequency of attendance that seemed to be the most important.

The study’s findings supports previous research that religious participation can promote psychological and physical health while reducing mortality risks, possibly by calming people in stressful times, fostering meaningful social relationships and helping curtail bad habits.

As I explored in my book, The Optimism Advantage, any discussion on attitude and optimism would be incomplete without addressing the role that faith plays in coping with adversity for so many people. Self-reliance is a powerful value and an empowering strategy, but it has its limits. You may find support in a shared faith community and comfort by having faith in God’s providence. If you are a religious believer, “In God We Trust” may be more than a slogan on your money. Faith may be a centering belief in your life and may help you cope with life’s worst disasters and experiences.

Believers often live with tension that makes room for faith in God and doing their part to work out his will. You can pray to God and claim his providential destiny and still remain willing to be used by God in making a difference for yourself and others. As such, you can find in adversity an experience that brings further clarity to your purpose. Adversity can even open new doors to your calling.
The paradoxical advice most often attributed to St. Ignatius provides a powerful insight: “Pray as if everything depends on God. Act as if it depends upon you.” This statement highlights the importance of accepting God’s will while simultaneously working to live out that will. Faith like this can lead to inner peace and constructive action.

During the sixteen years that Scottish missionary David Livingstone spent in Africa, he faced one challenge after another. On nearly thirty occasions, he had been laid low by swamp fevers. His left arm was crushed by a lion and hung helplessly at his side. Yet he was never deterred from his mission: “I return without misgiving and with great gladness. For would you like me to tell you what supported me through all the years of exile among people whose language I could not understand, and whose attitude towards me was always uncertain and often hostile? It was this: ‘Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world!’ On those words I staked everything, and they never failed!”

Hearing stories of such challenges tends to keep your own adversity in perspective. Faith – in any form – has the tendency to give those who believe constructive principles to hold on to in a difficult world. Use them – and anything else that gives you strength. It’s nice to find research that supports our experience of the importance of religious faith. In light of experience and the findings of research, it might be wise for you to seek the support of your faith community. It can give a meaningful perspective to even your worst day.

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