The Worldwide Connection Between Spirituality & Wellbeing
The report highlights below are excerpts. Read the full report to find out more.
At a time when millions of people worldwide are struggling with their mental health and wellbeing, Gallup explores ways spirituality can help address this mental health crisis.
A growing body of medical and psychological research demonstrates that people with a stronger spiritual or faith commitment often have better health and wellbeing outcomes than those without.
A meta-analysis of academic and Gallup global data was conducted, as well as a series of in-depth interviews to explore the relationship between spirituality and wellbeing.
In the study, “religion” is used when describing past research that specifically asked about religion and religious practice. Otherwise, the broader “spirituality” term is used, to encompass not only traditional religious practice in community settings but also individual activities, such as prayer or meditation, that draw one closer to a higher being.
Wellbeing can be interpreted broadly to include a range of outcomes, experiences or practices that are related to physical, mental and emotional health.
Gallup World Poll data from 2012-2022 finds, on a number of wellbeing measures, people who are religious have better wellbeing than people who are not religious.
When I was a grad student, I was told to try to figure out what’s wrong with (people). Now, we try to figure out what’s right with them. Training people on these strength-based skills will be a more powerful and enduring way to treat mental illness.
Founder of the Center for Healthy Minds; Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Globally, experiences of negative emotions — such as sadness, worry, stress and anger — are at their highest level in more than a decade of measurement.
In recent decades, numerous academic studies have found a positive relationship between spirituality, religion or faith and favorable health and wellbeing outcomes.
Specifically, spirituality has been linked to lower rates of depression, addiction and suicide.
The ultimate goal in measuring wellbeing is to maximize positive outcomes and minimize negative ones so people can live the best life possible.
Investment in mental health is an investment in a better life and future for all.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Each one-point difference represents an effect for an estimated 40 million adults worldwide; therefore, an estimated 160 million more adults have positive experiences than would be the case if those adults were not religious.
The differences in wellbeing between religious and non-religious people in the Positive Experience, Social Life and Community Basics indexes are substantial for wellbeing differences observed across population groups.
Religious people tend to have better outcomes (statistically meaningful effects)
Positive Experience Index
(experienced enjoyment, smiled/laughed a lot, treated with respect, learned something, felt well-rested)
Social Life Index
(satisfied with opportunity to meet people and make friends, have people you can call on if in trouble)
(rate life in five years highly, standard of living getting better, local economy getting better)
Community Basics Index
(everyday life in a community, including environment, housing and infrastructure)
No meaningful difference between religious/non-religious people
Life evaluation: Thriving
(rate current life 7-10 on 0-10 scale; rate life in five years 8-10 on 0-10 scale)
Life evaluation: Suffering
(rate current and future life 0-4 on 0-10 scale)
Local Economic Confidence Index
(rating of current local economic conditions, local economy getting better)
Religious people tend to have worse outcomes
Negative Experience Index
(experienced worry, sadness, anger, stress and physical pain a lot of the previous day)
Personal Health Index
(do not have health problems, feel well-rested, did not experience physical pain, worry, sadness a lot of the previous day)
Wellbeing is influenced by:
It’s unclear why spirituality would necessarily influence wellbeing beyond these basic human needs and outcomes; therefore, any meaningful statistical relationship between spirituality and wellbeing is notable.
Many studies have reported that religiosity and spirituality are positively related to wellbeing outcomes including:
And lower levels of:
Religious involvement has also been found to be related to:
At times, spirituality has been associated with poorer mental health outcomes:
People who believe negative events in their lives are the result of a higher power abandoning them or punishing them tend to have worse mental health outcomes.
Relationship Between Gross Domestic Product and Religious Importance,Gallup World Poll Data
Over the past 15 years, religiosity has declined in high-income countries but remained relatively stable in less wealthy countries. In the U.S., adults today are less religious than Americans in the past by almost any measure.
Concurrently, research has found strong links between being religious and having a range of positive emotional and physical health outcomes at the individual level.
Across faith groups, more religious Americans score higher on Gallup’s overall wellbeing index than less religious people, even after considering other demographic factors such as age, education, income, gender and race.
Highly religious people are more likely to practice a range of healthy behaviors, including exercising regularly, eating healthy and refraining from smoking.
Religious Americans are significantly less likely to say they have been diagnosed with depression in their lifetimes than people who are less religious.
Despite research showing a connection between spirituality and better emotional health and wellbeing, religion and spirituality are declining in the U.S. and many other parts of the world, due to:
Educational institutions are providing much of the research, but may be coming up short in making those findings known to the broader public.
News media can be more willing to understand, report on, and accurately describe the research.
Religious institutions have a part to play: 84% of respondents say faith and religious groups need to provide the media with relevant spokespeople with lived experience. (The 2022 HarrisX Global Faith and News Study)
Political institutions may shy away from talking about the possible benefits of spirituality, or alternatively, take too heavy‐handed of an approach, e.g. favoring one set of religious beliefs over another.
This political divide creates a lot of misunderstandings and can transfer over to religion as well – when people make religious judgements about one another, it can lead to the exclusion of other people.
HAROLD G. KOENIG, MD
Director, Duke University Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health; Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences and Associate Professor
When people see spiritual or religious people or groups as “others,” they may be hostile toward them or organized religion more generally. Those who are part of marginalized religions often experience cultural conflicts that lead to a greater likelihood of depression.
We need our spiritual awareness to know one another as fellow souls on Earth and see one another more deeply than our ideologies.
Professor of Psychology and Education, Columbia University
When religious polarization occurs, it leads to a lack of shared norms and to religions being perceived as a force for conflict rather than a force for the common good.
Religious polarization had harmful effects on individual health, mostly in less democratic countries.
In countries with a large number of smaller religious groups (known as religious fractionalization), there was a positive correlation with health. The health benefits were greater in democratic countries.
Many young adults do not view religion positively — especially the significant proportion who do not claim any religious affiliation — and, therefore, may not be open to hearing its possible benefits.
We became spiritually non‐conversant as a society, to the point where many people do not even know how to have a deeply interested discussion in one another’s spiritual life. We lost our great American voice of spiritual pluralism.
Professor of Psychology and Education, Columbia University
Young people are born with spiritual needs, which rapidly increase during adolescence and young adulthood. Many young people today, however, don’t know how to meet those needs. Without guidance from family, a church community, or the educational system, they often try to meet those needs in the wrong places — alcohol, drugs, sex, money, etc., and end up losing themselves.
HAROLD G. KOENIG, MD
Director, Duke University Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health; Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences and Associate Professorof Medicine, Duke University Medical Center
I think about it in terms of belief, behavior, belonging. Beliefs are not changing as much as you might think, neither are behaviors numbers. Belonging is what’s changing, hence the shift away from a regular religious gathering.
Professor of the Humanistic Social Sciences, Brandeis University
Religion is evolving: religion is embedded in culture, but just as religion influences culture, culture also has an influence on faith teachings and practice. This process may allow people to receive some of the benefits religion offers through non‐religious means.
A global mental health crisis is prompting leaders in both public and private sectors to examine how to improve the wellbeing of citizens and employees.
Employees with poor mental health have an estimated 4x the number of unplanned absences as employees with better mental health, costing the economy more than $40 billion in lost productivity.
Workplaces, healthcare providers, political leaders, educational leaders and the news media can all support individual actions to realize societal wellbeing gains.
Some institutions may provide direct services or care for an individual’s health and wellbeing (e.g., hospitals, treatment centers, schools) that can sometimes have a spiritual connection or religious affiliation.
Workplaces may not exist to support wellbeing, but can do so by offering programs or opportunities that do (coverage for health services, wellness programs).
As companies consider ways to make their workplaces more inclusive, they can consider including religious tolerance and expression in DEI programs along with race, disability, ethnicity, and gender.
Mental health struggles touch people in every nation, and with more needing help every day, it is critical to consider all possible approaches.
This includes thinking about how to incorporate spirituality into the list of tools that can be used, given the documented relationships between spirituality and improved wellbeing and mental health outcomes.