Research Shows, Being Spiritual (Not Religious) Makes Children Happier

According to a recent study by the University of British Columbia, Canada, kids who feel that their lives have value and meaning and who build deep relationships, both aspects of spirituality, are also much happier. The study was published Dr. Mark Holder and his colleagues Dr. Ben Coleman and Judi Wallace in the Journal of Happiness Studies.

Spirituality and religiousness (religious practices and beliefs) have been associated with increased happiness in both adolescents and adults. On the other hand, little research has been done on younger children.

In an attempt to determine strategies to boost children`s happiness, Dr. Holder and his colleagues set out to better understand the link between spirituality, religiousness, and happiness in kids aged 8 to 12.  The study involved 320 children from 4 public schools and 2 faith-based schools who completed 6 questionnaires to rate their spirituality, religiousness, temperament, and happiness.  In addition, their parents were asked to rate their temperament and happiness, too.

The team of researchers assessed the effect of spirituality and religiousness on happiness, respectively.  Spirituality, which involves a personal state of purpose and meaning, was measured by asking the children questions like “Do you believe in a higher power who watches over you?” On the other hand, religiousness, which is concerned with adherence to practices, was measure by asking them questions such as “How often do you go to a place of worship such as a church?”

The study showed that children who were spiritual were happier. Regarding the explanation of children`s levels of happiness, two aspects of spirituality were particularly important: , the personal (i.e. meaning and value in one’s own life) and communal (i.e. quality and depth of inter-personal relationships). On the other hand, religious practices had no or little effect on happiness levels.

Child`s temperament, which was also assessed in the study, was also an important predictor of happiness. Namely, happier children were less shy and more sociable. However, the link between spirituality and happiness remained very strong, even when temperament was taken into consideration.

The authors believe that improving personal meaning might be the key factor in the link between spirituality and happiness.  They said that strategies like expressing kindness towards others and volunteering, both of which increase personal meaning, might help make children happier.

According to Mark Holder, an associate professor of psychology at UBC’s Okanagan campus,

“I wasn’t even sure we could measure spirituality in kids. I wasn’t sure when we gave them the questionnaires whether they’d be able to understand it (or) we’d end up with what we refer to as a ‘wash,’ which means we don’t find anything significant because children don’t get it and they just guess and respond randomly. The fact that we got such strong results indicates that they must somehow be understanding it. “

“We think it might be a component of whether it’s voluntary or not that’s important,” Holder adds, explaining that most 10-year-olds who attend worship services do so at their parents’ ask them and not out of their own wish.