By John Salak –
Forget deferred gratification. A new study out of Harvard University reports that attending a religious service at least once a week is likely to reduce a person’s risk of dying from despair.
The Harvard findings were based on health data from over 100,000 men and women. After factoring in numerous variables, the research revealed that women who attended services at least once a week had a 68 percent lower risk of death from despair as those women who didn’t attend regular services. Men also seemed to benefit but not as much as women. They registered a 33 percent lower risk of death from despair compared to those who didn’t attend regular services.
The results beg the question of whether religion benefits a person’s physical wellbeing or if those who attend services are already in better physical and mental shape than those who don’t.
Harvard noted that religion, in fact, may be a social determinant of health. The study’s authors contend that participating in services also may counteract despair, while strengthening a sense of hope and meaning. They added that religion may contribute to building psychosocial resilience by fostering a sense of peace and positive outlook and promoting social connectedness.
“These results are perhaps especially striking amidst the present COVID-19 pandemic,” noted Ying Chen, one of the study’s authors and a research associate and at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science. “They are striking in part because clinicians are facing such extreme work demands and difficult conditions, and in part because many religious services have been suspended. We need to think what might be done to extend help to those at risk for despair.”