Most people would tell you that arguments over whether or not religion has value go back millennia and are as old as religion itself. They would be, actually, incorrect. For most of human history, there was no such thing as an atheist to argue that religion was useless. Truthfully, today atheism, despite claiming to be a distinct lack of faith, is technically a religion in its own right. There are even atheist churches, and the comment section of just about any article on faith is riddled with atheists who are every bit as zealous as the religious practitioners they mock.Atheism is a relatively new phenomenon in the grand scheme of human existence. For most of human history, the question was not if someone believed in deities, but what deities they followed. There may have been the odd agnostic here and there, but the vast majority of humanity practiced a religion and followed deities of some sort. As such, the need to make a case for the value of religion is a recent occurrence. That has not stopped religious adherents across the globe from stepping up to explain what their religion can offer to converts. Each faith has a list of reasons why people should practice it, but what about religion in general? What good comes from practicing a faith, any faith at all?
Increased GratitudeReligious people tend to be more thankful than their secular counterparts. Religions place an emphasis on being grateful for what one has over what one desires. This trains people of faith to focus on things for which they are thankful rather than obsessing over what they do not have yet.
Increased feelings of gratitude have been shown to help decrease the risk of anxiety and depression as well making a person happier over time. Grateful people are more likely to succeed in their careers, have higher self-esteem, possess greater emotional resilience and have higher energy levels. All of this can be achieved by saying a heartfelt prayer of thanks each day.
Social ConnectionsMost religions carry a social element. People converse and bond with each other before or after worship services. They meet for Bible studies, extra pujas or Hanukkah celebrations. Religious people tend to work to foster a sense of community among those of their same religion through both purely entertainment events such as church picnics and via more meaningful opportunities such as volunteering or mission work. All of these help religious people to feel like they are a part of a larger group and to develop the sort of social network and support system that is so important for mental health.
Greater HappinessGiven that religious people have built in social opportunities at their place of worship, better self-control, higher levels of gratitude and are more likely to have a sense of purpose in their lives, perhaps it is no surprise that they tend to be happier. Religious people are usually more optimistic and more content with their live than those who are purely secular. This means that those who are religious tend to be happier.
Sense of PurposeReligious people are more likely to have a sense that they have a place in this world and that there is a purpose to their lives. Even the average religious person tends to feel a sense of purpose. They do not have to be someone who is heavily motivated and determined to carve out a place in the world for themselves. They do not need to be deeply dedicated to and do a great deal of work for a specific cause that will make a difference in the lives of millions. They do not need to be in a place where they are clearly making a difference each day such as working in an emergency room where lives are saved daily. The average Joe who works in an office can feel that there is a plan laid out for his life. He is on Earth for a reason. His life is not simply a meaningless accident.
Part of a Larger WorldReligious people recognize that there is more to life than simply what they see. There is a larger world out there, and they are part of it. They can connect with it through prayer, meditation, magick, songs and other forms of worship. They know that they are not alone in this world and that, even when life is a mess at the moment, it can improve. It may sound like a small thing, but feeling that one is part of something bigger and that they are not alone is more than enough to make a massive difference in a person’s life.
Better Self-ControlHow much more could each person accomplish if they managed to keep themselves under control? A lack of self-control can lead to problems that range from accidentally taking an overly long lunch hour at work when a person loses track of how long they have been scrolling through Facebook to alcohol or drug addictions. People who are religious tend to have fewer of these problems because they usually have better self-control. They are less likely to give into food cravings and tend to sleep better. Faith is also a key component of many addiction recovery programs such as Alcoholic Anonymous. Religions everywhere encourage adherents to live by a specific set of morals and beliefs. These vary between religions, but there are numerous places where different religions’ belief systems overlap.
Lengthened LivesBelieve it or not, people who are religious tend to live longer live than those who are purely secular. People who adhere to a religion are more likely to avoid excessive alcohol consumption, drugs and other unhealthy habits. As they are usually more thankful as well, they also gain all the benefits of living a more grateful life such as lowered blood pressure and a strengthened immune system.
Religion can do amazing things for a person. From increasing their gratitude for the many good things in their life to lengthening their actual lifespan, religion can completely change a person’s life. No wonder it has stuck around since the dawn of history.