Religion Increases Well-Being

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A friend of mine received a call the other night for a telephone survey of senior citizens. The interviewer wanted to know about his physical and emotional health – “Do you have any trouble picking up objects off the floor?”; “Do you suffer from depression?”; “Do you find yourself frequently bored?” The last question asked him to categorize himself according to religious observance.

Instead of answering, my friend asked the interviewer to guess. Until that point there had been nothing in the interview relating directly to religion. The survey focused exclusively on questions about the interviewee’s general state of heath. And my friend had not peppered his answers with “Baruch Hashem”. Nevertheless, the interviewer guessed correctly that he was religiously observant.

My friend asked the interviewer how he had known. “Well, you seem like a pretty optimistic fellow,” the interviewer said. “And I find religious people are generally more optimistic.” The interviewer’s response turns out to be based on solid empirical evidence. A recent Gallup-Healthways survey of 372,000 people found that American Jews ranked highest of any religious group on the well-being index, based on such factors as health, happiness, and access to basic needs. And among American Jews, the most religious rank the highest on the well-being scale. (A strong positive relationship between religiosity and well-being is found in all religious groups.)

By the age when getting up from a chair becomes an issue, most people are winding down. Not frum Jews. They are still living lives of constant anticipation (like the rabbi’s late wife Eva in Dov Haller’s “Waiting for the Rabbi”). My friend is busy with grandchildren’s weddings, his own chavrusos from 6:30 a.m. on, and learning with boys from broken homes at night. Why not be optimistic?

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