How does religion make people happy?

Divine Confidence: What Non-Religious People Can Learn From Believers

Believers are often healthier and happier with their lives. What can non-religious people learn from them?

People have always sought a connection to supernatural worlds in order to gain strength, overcome fears, find consolation - even happiness in life. Indeed, studies show that religious and spiritual people tend to be physically healthier than non-believers. And happier.

Because hardly anything gives more confidence, creates so much meaning and support as belief in higher powers. If believing people lose trust in their own strength, in their fellow human beings, in the world, then there is always something bigger: an inexplicable but absolute order of things.

From the need for this feeling of security, Homo sapiens must once have developed the conviction that transcendent forces, i.e. forces that exceed the world of experience, influence life and take away a little horror from everything unknown and incomprehensible.

Animals, objects, forces of nature: every phenomenon can therefore be read in faith as an expression of supernatural activity. Nothing is then meaningless and everyone has their own place in the world - because everything follows a divine plan.

Low blows, gratitude and happiness in life

Spiritual people often cope with low blows in life better than their sober contemporaries, they often have great psychological resilience. The number of personal accounts of people who found solace in faith in moments of need cannot be overlooked. They tell of the reassuring feeling of being at home in spite of all the agony in a spiritual cosmos that extends far beyond one's own existence.

Believers who feel they belong to a religion such as Christianity or Islam also usually feel deeply grateful to their Creator. They perceive every benefit as a gift from God. Many therefore also feel a deep connection to nature, see with awe and joy how the divine affects animals and plants.

But belief alone does not increase the happiness of spiritual people. But also the special lifestyle that is often part of it. Believers often live integrated into a community, support others in everyday life - and feel supported by others themselves. In addition, they usually practice rituals and follow traditions that give structure and stability to their existence.

Draw strength

Believers often draw strength from regular prayers or meditations. In this way you gain space for yourself, beyond the tasks and challenges of everyday life. In addition, they gain practice in putting their brain into a state of concentrated but effortless attention - and, according to some brain researchers, also activate happy hormones in the brain.

Some believers also practice gentle forms of movement such as tai chi, qigong or yoga. These three methods, in which mental immersion and physical activity merge, can also help non-religious people to relax and gain a feeling of control - thus protecting them from stress and depressing moods.

But perhaps faith is especially exhilarating in one respect: it can help people to alleviate the torment of the sometimes monstrous question of "why". Almost every religion devises an explanation of why we exist, where we come from, and where we are going.

Belief is ambivalent

Followers of many faiths, from minor tribal religions to major Christian denominations, find particular comfort in the idea that decay, sickness, and even death do not last. Their faith gives them the assurance that the bad in this world will be replaced by recovery, rebirth, or eternal life in another world. Such beliefs are a source of hope - and thus consolidate life satisfaction in the here and now.

However, belief can only develop its beneficial power if it is felt of its own accord: Truly spiritual people tend to meet strangers with positive expectations, researchers have found, and are highly willing to accept and support others. Believers, on the other hand, who are more likely to have their religion imposed by a community, are more intolerant, narrow-minded and merciless.

Faith is therefore ambivalent: it can make people happy and torment them. This is a very special feature of the supersensible. The sacred, wrote the Protestant theologian Rudolf Otto, is always frightening and attractive at the same time, threatening and captivating.

It makes us tremble - with fear and happiness.