Spend a few hours in a house of worship

The Interfaith Council of Greater Sacramento provides a partial list of faith groups in the Sacramento region at http://tinyurl.com/SacFaithGroups.

The holidays are upon us. This means you will soon be bombarded with message after message linking your happiness and your family's happiness to purchasing this item or that item. Or, more likely, purchasing this item as well as that item, and then a whole bunch more items. You can pay for it later.

During this holiday season you may also hear a message inviting you to attend religious services. I would like to suggest that your happiness will be more likely to increase by spending a couple of your weekend hours in a house of worship, rather than in the malls of consumer devotion.

Recently, while studying the nonsacred text of Wikipedia, I learned that a review of 850 research papers on the subject of religious involvement and happiness concluded that “the majority of well-conducted studies found that higher levels of religious involvement are positively associated with indicators of psychological well-being (life satisfaction, happiness, positive affect, and higher morale) and with less depression, suicidal thoughts and behavior, drug/alcohol use/abuse.”

I didn’t find this surprising.

Perhaps this study was not as elegant as the Psalms, but it provided convincing evidence that belonging to a religious group will increase your happiness. The other point made by these studies was that it doesn’t matter which religion you choose. It seems that nearly all religious organizations have a similar impact upon well-being.

Having attended religious services at more than 125 different venues here in Sacramento, the happiness studies make sense to me. While the services are noticeably different—different music, different beliefs, different buildings, different dress—the similarities between all the religious organizations are more noteworthy. The common theme among all the religious services I have attended was a feeling of belonging to something bigger than yourself, with a caring, empathetic group of fellow humans in an organization that offered many options to be of service to the larger community.

It is similar to exercise, where one can debate the benefits of running or yoga, of tennis or football, but the more important question is not which of the sports is the best, but rather, should one be getting exercise? The same is true of religion. There are many options. Chose one this holiday season. Escape from the pressure of shopping and of endless preparation for the holidays, and take a moment for reflection. And enjoy this moment of reflection not alone, but with others.

I believe—and thanks to Wikipedia, I now have discovered numerous studies to back up the belief—that this will make a difference in your life. It could easily make a difference in your happiness when the come-to-Jesus (or other deity of your choice) moment occurs when your January credit-card bill arrives.