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Believing In More Than Yourself Gets You Your Best Self

One of Primerrily’s Primers is the belief that a transcendent order (a fancy phrase for believing in something greater than yourself, beyond ordinary human experience) --whether that be grounded in religion, philosophy, or tradition -- is the foundation for morality. You know, the principles that help us know what’s right and what’s wrong, what behavior is good and what behavior is bad. For your kids, their moral compass is “mom or dad” (and they may not be wrong!); but parents know they are trying to prepare their kids for life beyond living under the same roof. We want to give our kids a moral foundation on which to stand and make decisions, whether in the classroom, on the field, and later, in the workplace.

In that spirit, Harvard’s Department of Human Flourishing has caught our attention once again -- this time, with a study analyzing the “associations of religious upbringing with subsequent health and well-being.” In this analysis, activity across a wide range of religions, religious service attendance, and independent religious practice is shown to have ties to a number of favorable developmental qualities -- ones we aspire to see in our own kids. Summarizing a list of a few of these qualities: greater life satisfaction and self-esteem, positive affect, character strengths, greater emotional processing, and emotional expression. Other attributes noted in the study include: greater volunteering, greater sense of mission, and more forgiveness, greater likelihood of being registered to vote, lower probabilities of smoking (tobacco and marijuana) and drug use overall, lower probabilities of early sexual initiation and sexually transmitted infections, fewer lifetime sexual partners, and fewer depressive symptoms. In sum, religious activity “may be meaningful avenues of development and support, possibly leading to better health and well-being.” Sign our kids up for that!

So in case you’ve been looking for some motivation to check in with your “higher power” (anyone could use a nudge now and then!), read on below, and at Oxford Academic for deeper detail:

Associations of Religious Upbringing With Subsequent Health and Well-Being from Adolescence to Young Adulthood: An Outcome-Wide Analysis

In the present study, we prospectively examined the associations of religious involvement in adolescence (including religious service attendance and prayer or meditation) with a wide array of psychological well-being, mental health, health behavior, physical health, and character strength outcomes in young adulthood. Longitudinal data from the Growing Up Today Study were analyzed using generalized estimating equations. Sample sizes ranged from 5,681 to 7,458, depending on outcome; the mean baseline age was 14.74 years, and there were 8–14 years of follow-up (1999 to either 2007, 2010, or 2013). Bonferroni correction was used to correct for multiple testing. All models were controlled for sociodemographic characteristics, maternal health, and prior values of the outcome variables whenever data were available. Compared with no attendance, at least weekly attendance of religious services was associated with greater life satisfaction and positive affect, a number of character strengths, lower probabilities of marijuana use and early sexual initiation, and fewer lifetime sexual partners. Analyses of prayer or meditation yielded similar results. Although decisions about religion are not shaped principally by health, encouraging service attendance and private practices in adolescents who already hold religious beliefs may be meaningful avenues of development and support, possibly leading to better health and well-being. . .

There is evidence that religion is an important social determinant of health over the lifecourse. Religious participation in adulthood is, in many cases, a function of religious upbringing in early life. Intergenerational transmission of religious values and practices occurs largely through parental modeling and is likely facilitated by close parent-child relationships. Although decisions about religion are not shaped principally by health, for a