A recent Gallup study, based on 10 years of data, indicates that religious people globally are more positive, have more social safety nets and are more engaged with their communities than those who are not religious. The report also found variances from country to country and that, though religion, all in all, is good for you, that fact isn’t enough to attract people who want nothing to do with it.
The report, published on October 10, states, “Gallup World Poll data from 2012-2022 find, on a number of wellbeing measures, that people who are religious have better wellbeing than people who are not.”
The survey focused on nine indexes of people’s lives, covering their interactions with others, their social life, community involvement and physical well-being, each marked on a score of 0-100, based on the participants’ answers to questions. Questions included, “Did you smile or laugh today?” and “Were you treated with respect?” to gauge overall positivity. For social and civic life, the questions concerned whether the respondents gave to charity or helped a stranger. Physical health questions included the obvious “Are you in pain?” and “Do you have health issues that keep you from doing things that people your age usually do?” For community basics—everyday life in the community—they were asked about housing and infrastructure.
All in all, religious people scored higher in five out of the nine indexes—Positive Experience, Social Life, Optimism, Community Basics and Civic Engagement.
On a global scale even small differences in scores actually are significant. “Each one-point difference in index scores between religious and nonreligious people represents an effect for an estimated 40 million adults worldwide,” according to the report. “For example, the four-point difference between religious and nonreligious people on the Positive Experience Index means that an estimated 160 million more adults worldwide have positive experiences than would be the case if those adults were not religious.”
The survey results would suggest that religion and spirituality could be a solution to the mental health problems that are an issue in many countries. But, as the survey also notes, interest in religion is declining.
Jeff Jones, Gallup poll senior editor, said measuring the impact of religion and spirituality on wellness is complicated, citing the declining numbers of religious people and the different ways people practice what they would regard as spirituality.
“With the changing nature of religious landscapes and spiritual practice, it can make quantitative measurement amid the changes challenging, as the traditional forms of spirituality — namely, attending formal religious services, are becoming less common and people are seeking other ways to fulfill their spiritual needs,” he said.
One statistic that stands out in the study is “Civic Engagement Index, Religious vs. Not Religious People, by Region.” In sector after sector—from Northern America to Asia-Pacific, from Latin America & Caribbean to South Asia, and from Europe & Central Asia to Sub-Saharan Africa to the Middle East & North Africa—in every corner of the earth without exception religious people’s inclination to volunteer their time and help to others out-perform non-religious people.
So, if you need help, call a religious person. If you need some optimism and positivity, hang around religious people. If you need to be treated with respect or just need a chuckle today or a reassuring word, seek religious people. It should improve things for you, even if you’re grumpy about religion.