Religion really can significantly improve your physical and mental well-being, new research has shown.

In a compilation and comparison of 139 academic studies into the links between religion and well-being, Christian think tank Theos has shown there is now “overwhelming” evidence of a positive correlation between what people believe and how this affects both their physical and mental health.

It stated that the relationship between religion and well-being is widely and frequently reported, but that neither term is self-explanatory.

In its study, “Religion and Well-Being: Assessing The Evidence,” to make it easier to spot the correlation, Theos, therefore, summarized religion as anything from religious group participation to religious affiliation and categorized well-being from physical to mental health.

By doing so, the report not only “clarifies the extent to which religion is good for well-being, but begins to explain what this means, adding detail to the big familiar picture.”

Highest for the positive link to well-being is religious group participation, while religious affiliation is perhaps the weakest of positive correlations.

“At the most generalized level, it seems that the more serious, genuinely held and practically-evidenced a religious commitment is, then the greater the positive impact it is likely to have on well-being,” the study found.

However, the report emphasized that these benefits could not be gained by wanting them.

“To join community for the sake of ‘me’ is to kill community … If there is any well-being to be got from religion, it should be got on the way, almost accidentally,” it stated.

There was also emphasis on how different religions and translations of religions vary in respect to well-being. Cults and sects can damage well-being, while atheists who volunteer may reap the benefits of group activities.

The report said, “One study, for example, reported that belief in the afterlife is inversely associated with feelings of anxiety, while strong beliefs in the pervasiveness of sin are positively linked to anxiety. Belief matters but it is not everything.”

The think tank believes its findings will open up new areas of research and inquiry for those working in professions studying and working on mental health-related issues, as well as physical and public health professionals.

“The evidence linking religion and well-being, and especially religious participation and well-being is now overwhelming,” said Theos’ head of research Nick Spencer.

“It is time we thought carefully and creatively about how we can harness this powerful resource to improve well-being and mental health, rather than running scared from the very idea of religion.”

Theos is a Christian think tank that debates the place of religion in society and carries out research and events and challenges ill-informed thinking. It believes that “you can’t understand the modern world without understand religion.”

Kira Taylor is a student and aspiring journalist who is undertaking a period of work experience with The Baptist Times of Great Britain. A version of this news article first appeared in The Baptist Times – the online newspaper of The Baptist Union of Great Britain. It is used with permission. You can follow her on Twitter @KiraTaylor15.

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