Religion has been one of the most influential forces during the records of mankind for it reaches 84% of the world’s population (Aghababaei, 409). It has helped people understand the world from a philosophical and theoretical perspective which in turn leads to impacting one’s psychological well-being. In his philosophical essay “On Virtue and Happiness,” John Stuart Mill conjures the idea of how desiring materialistic things, for example fame or money, to achieve a sense of satisfaction and happiness is only temporary because “it’s worth solely that of the things which it will buy” (13). Mill brings awareness of the fact that people cannot be content with a desire for physical needs for true joy does not lie in garnering material things. Unlike physical objects, one’s religion has been proven to improve their well-being and happiness. During his speech discussing psychology and belief in God, Professor John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University, internationally renowned speaker, and author of several books covering the topic of religion and philosophy, states that,“[t]here is a correlation between religious belief and well-being, happiness… and life satisfaction” (Lennox, 00:02:36-00:03:01). Due to being the top three religions worldwide, Christianity, Islam, and Atheism have the most notable influence on their followers, and in turn, the world. One thing all three of these religions influence is one’s psyche. Even though there have been violent acts that have been committed in the name of religion, there has been a more intimate and positive outcome of being a believer or nonbelievers. Questions have arisen concerning whether people of different denominations, specifically Christians, Islams, and Atheists, vary in happiness and life satisfaction levels since they are not alike in numerous forms and have a significant impact on the world’s population. Although Christianity, Islam, and Atheism teach their followers distinct moral stories and promote incompatible beliefs, they all indulge in a sense of uniform peace and joy.
The positive relationship between Christianity and its impact on the psychological well-being on its followers has been proven to be true. Among those who identify as Christian, studies have been conducted that have shown the positive relationship between Christianity and one’s mental well-being. Supporting Professor Lennox and his view about religion having a correlation with well-being and life satisfaction, Professor Roy F. Baumeister, Professor of Psychology at University of Queensland, says in his book Religion and Psychology: A Special Issue of Psychological Inquiry that religions, like Christianity, can not only produce health and well-being in the present moment, but over the long run as well (210). He finds that the degree that Christianity gives worldviews to its followers helps them find a more meaningful meaning in ordinary daily events and in major obstacles in life, for example the diagnosis of cancer (211). Practicing the religion also helps one cultivate and procure positive emotions such as awe, serenity, joy, hope, and gratitude. As a result of having these positive emotions, people’s mindsets broaden which in turn makes them more creative and helps renew imperative personal and social resources, such as resilience, social support, and optimism.
As future generations grow up and let religions like Christianity continue to thrive, it may be a concern to people about how today’s children and adolescents and their mental balance cope with the religion. It is imperative that their well-being is being taken care of for the religion will not survive without the next generations of churchgoers. Along with books that have covered topics of religion and psychology, there have been research and studies done over how Christianity has a positive effect on the adolescent’s mental health. In their peer-reviewed scholarly article, “Christian Commitment and Personal Well Being: Exploring the Connection Between Religious Affect and Global Happiness Among Young Churchgoers in Australia,” Leslie J. Francis, Professor of Religions and Education within the Warwick Religions and Education Research Unit, and Gemma Penny, Research Fellow at Warwick University, specialising in psychology, religiosity and children, argue that Christian faith may hold a crucial educational key not only to the religious development of these young participants, but also to their personal well being (8). They utilize statistics drawing on data from the 2011 Australian National Church Life Survey that was designed to assess the connection between religious effect and global happiness (as a measure of private well being) among 6,194 young churchgoers in Australia who are in between the ages of 8 and 14 years who are attending a variation of denominations, which include Catholic, Anglican, Uniting, Pentecostal, and other Protestant churches. In their research, they pinpoint that differences in levels of personal well being were associated with individual differences in religious affect. After controlling for individual differences in sex and age, it was found that in the end that the data demonstrates a significant positive and direct correlation between religious affect and global happiness. Although it is true that Christianity improves adolescents’ psychological well-being, it remains imperative for churches to be aware of and to be attentive to the religious effect of their young members and not monitor the frequency of their attendance. This cannot only be said to just Christians in general, but it can be applied to other religions as well.
Not only does Christianity have an intimate impact on its followers and believers for Islam has had a profound emotional impact ever since it was founded in the 7th century. Along with Christians, there has been research and studies done on those who identify themselves as Islam in order to see how exactly it has an emotional and psychological effect on its followers. In their peer-reviewed research article, Ali Youssef Al-Seheel, who works at the Department of Psychology at International Islamic University Malaysia, and Noraini M. Noor, who has twice served as the Head of the Psychology Department at University of Malaysia and is presently the Coordinator of the Women for Progress Research Unit, and the Editor of Intellectual Discourse, examine the effects of an Islamic-based expressive gratitude strategy as compared to a secular-based expressive gratitude strategy and a control group in enhancing Muslims’ level of happiness. They suggest and promote that cultivating greater happiness for Muslims would be more effective through interventions that fit their beliefs and values (696). They utilize statistics that were based off of sixty students that were randomly assigned into one of three groups, and over a period of 16 days, they were asked to practice the respective exercises daily. They pinpoint that practicing the Islamic-based gratitude exercise would end in higher happiness level over time, compared to the happiness level of Muslim participants practicing the secular-based gratitude exercise or the control group (700). The study concludes that results suggested that the Islamic-based gratitude is beneficial in raising participants’ happiness level, as it fits with their beliefs and values. This correlates with the Francis and Penny study that demonstrates that not only a person’s religion is a catalyst to one’s psychological well-being, but one’s mental well-being is also dependent on the person themself and not how much they attend a service. Naser Aghababaei, Professor of Behavioral Sciences at The Institute for Research and Development in the Humanities, Agate Blachnio, faculty of Social Science at the Institute of Psychology situated at John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, and Masoume Aminikhoo, member of American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, investigated the links of gratitude toward God and dispositional gratitude with well-being and personality in an Iranian sample. They suggest that religious gratitude has less impact than dispositional gratitude on one’s well-being. They analyzed and utilized statistics from 188 Iranian university students that answered a six-item Gratitude Questionnaire that measured dispositional gratitude and a four-item Gratitude toward God Questionnaire that measured religious gratitude. In a second analysis, the findings in a second sample of Iranian Muslims, and in a sample of Polish Christians, contribute to providing cross-cultural proof that the dispositional gratitude is a distinctive prognosticator of well-being (414). In the end, they found that gratitude was associated with higher scores on happiness, life satisfaction, psychological well-being, and the Big Five factors of personality- openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (408). While these results have found the positive side of religious practice of the Islam religion, there have been some negative responses in the youth.
Although it has been found that there have been positive correlations between the Islam religion and mental well-being, there have been studies that have addressed the hindrance of the religion and it’s affect on the youth. Ahmed M. Abdel-Khalek, who won the State Award of Social Sciences (Psychology) in Egypt in 1988, and Ghada K. Eid, member of The Egyptian Association of Psychological Studies, examined the relationship amongst religiosity and the self-ratings of happiness, satisfaction with life, mental wellbeing, and depression among Kuwaiti and Palestinian adolescents. The children followed a procedure of answering five self-rating scales and the Multidimensional Child and Adolescent Depression Scale. Abdel-Khalek and Eid conducted their research in order to reveal how various religions do have an effect on young adolescents’ mental well-being. The results of their research showed that Palestinian males were significantly less religious than all other groups, in comparison to Kuwaiti males and females who had significantly higher scores on happiness and satisfaction (117). It was also found that Kuwaiti males had significantly higher mental health and less depression than all other groups. Among all the four groups, the association between religiosity and well-being rating scales were strongly significant, but weakly significant with depression. It was concluded that clinicians who treat depression are likely to manipulate their negative association with religiosity primarily among Palestinian clients (125).
Although the response to being Islamic or Christians is almost always positive, the social stigma around Atheism has negatively impacted their mental well-being. The stereotyping and stigmatization of Atheists has been prevalent for decades. Despite the fact that atheism is on the rise, some areligious people are still being discriminated and hated against. In his peer reviewed article, Dr. Tom Arcaro, sociologist at Elon University and founding director of the Periclean Scholars program, makes note that Atheists are one of the topmost groups that Americans find problematic and that rejection of Atheists is more prevalent than rejection of other denounced groups (50). Although media attention on Atheists has been on the rise in the last half decade, there still remains in the public mind a negative image on Atheists. After taking surveys on whether Atheists from the U.S. and other nations, it was found that in America, 57% felt repercussions from their workplace as well as 68% felt repercussions in their local community.
Being America’s least trusted group, Atheists are stereotyped as being cynical, sceptical, non-conformist, and joyless. However, there have been research studies that have provided a more in-depth insight on Atheists. In their research study about the Atheist, Christian, and Buddhist personality, Catherine L. Caldwell-Harris, Associate Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Boston University, Angela L. Wilson, who works at the Department of Psychology at Lesley College in Cambridge, Dr. LoTempio, a Licensed Psychologist in the state of Washington and a certified Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) therapist by the DBT-Linehan Board of Certification, and Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, an Israeli professor of psychology at the University of Haifa, Israel, argue that health researchers should try to better understand atheists in order to avoid making stereotypical judgements about the Atheist group as well as the Atheists’ happiness and life satisfaction levels are almost the exact same. In their study, atheists were recruited from the American atheist website and compared to Christians and Buddhists. They pinpoint that atheists disagreed with statements which employed terms such as inner spirit, spiritual, and sacred unlike Christians and Buddhists. In the end, findings support the stereotype of atheists as logical and skeptical, but not as cynical and joyless as well as that Atheists are “highly similar to Christians in their endorsement of statements that did not use spiritual language” (670). From The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, His Holiness the Dalai Lama explains that while people search for a way to satisfy their senses, “[a] believer develops this deeper level of pure joy through faith in God, which brings inner strength, inner peace” (7). In addition to that, he addresses that atheists can achieve the sense of joy as well; however, they “must develop this deeper level of joy through training of the mind” (53).
The significance of religion and the impact it makes varies on an individual, societal, and national scale varies greatly. Furthermore, there are numerous reasons why it remains important overall. People often crave a better understanding of how the world works, and religion is just one way that can help one understand and create a sense of joy and internal peace. The Dalai Lama helps us understand that even though there are countless people who don’t indulge and participate in the same religious activity as one does, the effect on their well-being is the same. Finding the ability to unite at an individual level is the only way to unite society, and religion, no matter what one believes in, can unite people humanitarianly.