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Does increased religiosity cause increased happiness?

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Since time immemorial religion has been associated with ecstasy and what Richard Dawkins, an American ethologist, called as insane courage that enabled the horror of 9/11. Sciences offer two hypotheses on whether or not pursuing religion breeds joy. One is credited to provide happiness, character, compassion and health along with intolerance and aggression. The other frames religion as an obsessional neurosis that breeds, in Freud’s term, the sexually repressed and guilt laden unhappiness.

In a survey conducted to access the life satisfaction of people, religious people were reportedly marked as happier than the irreligious people. The national Opinion Research Survey (NORC) reveals higher happiness in Americans who feel close to god than those who do not feel very close to god or not close at all. Similarly, a number of studies in 1980s suggested that elderly people tend to be happier and satisfied with life if they are engaged in religious activities. While one may conclude, by looking at these surveys, that religion has a strong connection with the wellbeing of people, this connection in actuality, is rather not as simple as it appears.

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There are a number of factors that explain the correlation between religion and happiness which are important to be considered to fully understand the phenomenon. In the modern times when individualism is rampant and depression rates are increasing, humans continuously face the need to belong somewhere. They seek for a social support, in the form of fellowship that can either come from an individual or a faith community that facilitates kindred spirits. This is how religion as a social support emerges wherein people rejoice together, labour together, and mourn together.

Another factor attached with this is the meaning and purpose of life in one’s belief system. Studies suggest that a sense of these two enhances the wellbeing of people. Interestingly, both meaning and purpose of life, is claimed to be offered by most of the religions which is why many feel inclined towards the path of religion. It fulfills the fundamental human needs of love, care, and solace.

In today’s world the run for self-worth through material well being, achievement, and other social approval is yet another issue that the millennial grapple with. Religion teaches them the virtue of non-defensive self-worth and self-acceptance. This humility is intrinsic to the belief that there is a God and he loves every one. It promotes the ideas of forgiveness, kindness, and compassion in people. The idea of forgiveness, for example, is based on the premise that it instills positive emotions in the human nature which can lead to reconciliation of fractured relations and make them more humane.

Clinical and laboratory studies also suggest that forgiveness and other similar virtues improve the emotional and physical wellbeing of people. Much as forgiveness and compassion enhances emotional wellbeing, gratitude or appreciation of life also enhances the emotional wellbeing of people. So, these values espoused by religious people are said to be connected with altruistic behavior, which in turn, fosters happiness.

Credit: REUTERS/Tomas Bravo

However, religion is also associated with hate at the same time. History has been evident of how the cruelest rulers in the past have been the most religious people as well. The Bible thumping slave owner, apartheid defender, and religious persecutors are just to name a few. This extremism essentially comes from the prejudices that are taught as a part of religious preaching. Every religious group deem their own affiliation as the highest and purest form of belief over other beliefs and hence breed an inevitable un-approval of the other.

In a study conducted on the cluster of religious prejudice in 20th century US the people who visited church daily expressed more radical prejudice than people who do not visit church. The study also revealed that people with conservative Christian beliefs are more radical than those who are less conservative. This shows that while religion teaches you the virtue of forgiveness, compassion and more, it also blinds you to believe in the supremacy of one’s own faith and community.

Unfortunately, yet evidently this is true for all the other religious as well. In the name of pride towards the self-righteous nature of a faith community, religion teaches you to consider other faiths as low and wrongful. Hence, the activities of religious conquest and expansion ensues as a result leading to endless wars and holocaust.

In other words, although religion serves as a balm of solace in the face of uncertainty. Particularly, in the modern times when faith and culture, both, has fragmented at the hands of materialist pursuit. Religion still has the capability to incur hatred in the minds of people if not kept in check. Thousands of studies correlate the faith factor of religion with health, happiness, and life satisfaction.

However, in numerous instances, religious affiliation have fostered the opposite of love, peace, and justice as is evident from the current state of global political affairs. Time and again, radical religious groups who are extrinsically motivated have bread in-group bias, disapproval of ethic and sexual minorities, and self-justification of all the oppression in the most hypocrite manner.  Ironically this is when all religions openly profess the virtues of love and compassion to be their fundamental ideas. 

Nevertheless, expressed religiosity in the Western societies, have exhibited positive correlation with happiness in terms of coping up with loss, charity giving, health, and uplifting the virtue in one’s character.  Psychologically speaking religion does serve as a social support for distressed people promoting health and happiness. However, an irrational acceptance of religious doctrines and beliefs can do us more harm than benefit.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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