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Religion Actually Makes You Happier?!

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Dr. Michelle Golland: Whenever I reveal that I was raised Roman Catholic and converted to Judaism, people -- whether Jewish or Catholic -- often say, "Wow -- you get a double dose of guilt and shame!"


I believe what they mean is that the Jewish side is the guilt and the Catholic side is the shame. So according to them, you would think that I would be pretty unhappy, right? Well, in general, I'm a very happy person -- and according to a 2010 study, that could be due in great part to the fact that I actually identify with a religion.

The study, which was part psychology- and part sociology-based, found that individuals who have religious beliefs are happier than those without them. Apparently, it doesn't matter what religion you are -- whether you're Christian, Jewish or Muslim. Per the study, it's not the doctrine of the religion that's important; rather, the key to greater happiness is the social networks that these organizations provide for the individual and his or her family. The study only looked at Catholics and evangelical Protestants, but I would expect to find that across any and all religions, there is a greater sense of connectedness due to shared experiences. As human beings, we crave meaning and connection. We desire to be understood by those around us and to feel close to others in our life.

I don't think this idea only applies to "religious" groups; I think it can be looked at in a variety of social contexts -- and could easily be extended to the cyber world as well. The vast social networks that people have now -- particularly websites such as momlogic and others that focus on topical and relevant issues for their readership -- help create and foster a sense of connectedness and understanding. What we are all searching for is the experience of being reflected back by others who in some way share our lives. Hopefully they can give us support and compassion when we need it -- and a swift kick in the tush when we need that, too!

Now, I don't believe that you should only create your connections via the computer, because having face time with others is key as well. What we in the cyber-mommy world can do is try to replicate this sense of shared experience in real time with other women. Of course, this is easier said than done for many of us, but I know that my world feels a lot sweeter and less heavy when I have connected with my girlfriends -- many of whom I did happen to meet at my synagogue many moons ago.

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13 comments so far | Post a comment now
Perfecting Parenthood December 29, 2010, 7:09 AM

The study compared people that were specifically plugged in to religious networks, not other networks. Why were those that were only moderately plugged into the church social scene not as happy? Was it because they substituted other less effective networks — work friends, online friends? An interesting question to search the answer for. Obviously the religious nature of the relationships had something to do with it. Perhaps shared morality makes people happier?

K8 December 29, 2010, 10:49 AM

Depends upon the person and the religion…

I was miserable as a Christian.

I’m waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay happier as a Pagan!

Lamia Kadir, MD December 29, 2010, 1:26 PM

I think the thought of knowing there is a Divine presence that is perfect bc I certainly am not, is comforting. Always aspiring to be better than I am,

a Muslim Woman
Austin, Texas

Anonymous December 29, 2010, 4:32 PM

K8 - I think that is her point exactly. No matter what/who you believe in, you’re are happy when you do believe.

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