Religious people tend to report better overall wellbeing, but they also fall short of their non-religious neighbors’ in some areas.
That was part of the finding of a report Gallup World Poll issued after 10 years of data collection.
Based on information gathered between 2012 and 2022, Gallup’s polling found that religious people tend to measure better on scales of wellbeing that include personal positivity, having more social support, and being involved in their communities.
The study included data about nine aspects of people’s lives, from their positive interactions with others and their social life to their civic engagement and physical health. Each of the nine indexes included a score of 0 to 100, based on answers to a series of questions.
For the positive experience index, respondents were asked questions such as “Did you smile or laugh today?” and “Were you treated with respect?” For civic engagement, they were asked questions about whether they gave to charity or helped a stranger. The physical health index asked if they had health issues that kept them from doing things people their age usually do and whether they were in physical pain. For community basics, they were asked about housing and infrastructure.
Religious people scored higher on five of Gallup’s indexes: social life (77.6 compared with 73.7 for nonreligious people), positive experience (69 to 65), community basics (59.7 to 55.6), optimism (49.4 to 48.4) and civic engagement (35.8 to 31).
Where the religious and non-religious scored approximately the same were indices measuring personal suffering and economic confidence. Religious people scored lower on indices measuring negative experience and physical health.
“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 report suggests religion and spirituality could be a possible asset in dealing with the mental health crisis in many countries. However, they noted, the number of people interested in or involved in religion is declining.
Jeff Jones, Gallup poll senior editor, said measuring the impact of religion and spirituality on wellness is complicated, especially as people become less religious and the way they practice spirituality evolves.
“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,” Jones said in an email.
Read the entire report here.