Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Spirituality and happiness in children

According to a new study on pre-teen children, higher levels of spirituality correlate with higher levels of happiness. This link is already well established in adults and teenagers. Interestingly, religious practice has little to no effect on a child's happiness.

I would take exception with the study's metrics of spirituality: a sense of meaning and value in one's life and the development of quality relationships. These factors seem quite lacking, don't they? A sense of a transcendent power, perhaps?


Jesse said...

I find those metrics for spirituality extremely problematic to say the least. Three main reasons:

1) They render the study meaningless. If you ran this same study using only agnostics and atheists, you almost certainly would still find a strong correlation between happiness and "deep, quality relationships," not to mention between happiness and feeling value in one's life. In fact, the fact that this study found no correlation involving actual "religious practices" and happiness means that presumably the crosstabs of this study would indeed show this effect (although the sample size of self-identified 8-12 year-old atheists in a sample that includes faith-based schools is probably very small).

2) Correlation, not causation? Having a good upbringing (regardless of religion) probably makes people feel more valuable, helps them develop stronger relationships -- and makes them happier. Again, I find this study meaningless. Maybe the crosstabs have more interesting data.

3) Last, I have to say it: this study reflects the extremely problematic (and often offensive) assumption that people who lack religion also lack the values or the capacity to develop the same virtues that religion attempts to cultivate - in this case, a sense of personal value and the ability to have deep, meaningful relationships, though in other cases this extends to basic concepts of morality and justice. You commented the other day on atheism being political suicide - no wonder, as long as this sort of bias exists.

Drew said...

Jesse, very well said. I totally agree with your #1, these metrics don't really seem to limit out spiritual people, as, like you said, atheists and agnostics still have value and quality relationships. totally worthless. And, to your number 3, I often have to tell some of my Christian friends that my atheist friends act more Christian than many Christians I know, in terms of morality. Great response.

Darren Staley said...

You said:

Interestingly, religious practice has little to no effect on a child's happiness.

I can see this. As I child I found going to church every Sunday (and most Wednesdays) an exercise in misery.

While I understand the benefits more as an adult, for a kid it was torture.

Of course that could just be me. I never re-read a book and rarely watch a movie twice.

Jesse said...

Thanks, Drew! Way to keep my ego up so I'll become a regular commenter.

Katie said...

I just want to add to the cheers for Jesse and his #3. Well said

This is the brick wall I run into when talking to seminarian acquaintances at school (and their herd). They use the idea of morality interchangeably with the idea of Christianity, which is fine except they use it in the limited sense -- one can only be moral if one is Catholic, otherwise how is one to learn how to be a good person? And how can you avoid "sin" (in any sense) without the threat of Hell to keep you in line?

My two cents. :-)

Drew said...

Nah, Jesse, your comment stood on its own merit.