Religious people tend to feel better about themselves and their lives, but a new study finds that this benefit may only hold in places where everyone else is religious, too.
According to the new study of almost 200,000 people in 11 European countries, people who are religious have higher self-esteem and better psychological adjustment than the non-religious only in countries where belief in religion is common. In more secular societies, the religious and the non-religious are equally well-off.
“The results suggest that religiosity, albeit a potent force, confers benefits by riding on cultural values,” study researcher Jochen Gebauer of Humboldt University in Berlin and colleagues wrote online Jan. 5 in the journal Psychological Science.
Many studies have shown benefits to religion, from an increase in self-control to greater happiness among the faithful. But where these benefits come from is still an open question. It could be something related to religion or religious teachings; alternatively, the social side of religion might play a role. For example, a December 2010 study published in the journal American Sociological Review found that it’s the social networks fostered by attending religious services that make religious people more satisfied with their lives.
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