Is THIS the Secret of Real Happiness?

If you want to be happy, then get religion.

Joining and actively participating in a religious group can do more for someone's "sustained happiness" than other forms of social participation, such as volunteering, playing sports or taking a class, according to a study from the London School of Economics and Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands.

"The church appears to play a very important social role in keeping depression at bay and also as a coping mechanism during periods of illness in later life," said study author Mauricio Avendano, an epidemiologist at LSE.

Here's the caveat: Even the researchers admit they are not clear whether this benefit is about religion per se, that is having faith, or whether it is more about a sense of belonging and being part of a caring community.

The study: The British and Dutch research team analyzed data on 9,000 Europeans, all of whom were older than 50, to determine which of four activities provided sustained happiness:
1. Volunteering or working with a charity
2. Taking educational classes
3. Participating in religious organizations
4. Participating in a political or community organization

The results:

  • Participating in a religious organization was the only social activity that provided sustained happiness.

  • Joining political or community organizations lost their benefits over time. In addition, the short-term benefits from those social connections often lead to depressive symptoms later on.

  • Although healthier people are more likely to volunteer, there was no evidence that volunteering led to better mental health and could even induce stress.

The study findings were reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

--From the Editors at Netscape

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