Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Study: Spiritually Inclined Students Are Happier

Study: Spiritually inclined students happier
Published in the Asbury Park Press 11/02/04
By SARAH HOFIUS
USA TODAY

College students who participate in religious activities are more likely
to have better emotional and mental health than students with no religious
involvement, according to a national study of students at 46 wide-ranging
colleges and universities.

In addition, students who don't participate in religious activities are
more than twice as likely to report poor mental health or depression than
students who attend religious services frequently.

Being religious or spiritual certainly seems to contribute to one's sense
of psychological well-being, says Alexander Astin, co-principal
investigator for the study of 3,680 third-year college students. The study
was released this week by the Higher Education Research Institute at the
University of California-Los Angeles.

Those who participate in religious activities also are less likely to feel
overwhelmed during college.

Religious involvement includes such activities as reading the Bible or
other sacred texts, attending religious services and joining religious
organizations on campus.

These findings are important because psychological well-being declines
during the college years, Astin says. One in five students has sought
personal counseling since entering college, and 77 percent of college
juniors report feeling depressed frequently or occasionally during the
past year. Only 61 percent of the students were depressed frequently or
occasionally when they first started college.

A high degree of spirituality correlates with high self-esteem and feeling
good about the way life is headed. The study defines spirituality as
desiring to integrate spirituality into one's life, believing that we are
all spiritual beings, believing in the sacredness of life and having
spiritual experiences.

"Students seem to feel better about themselves if they see themselves as
spiritual," Astin says. "In these trying times, it's a positive feeling to
correlate in people."

But the study also finds that highly spiritual students are more prone to
experiencing spiritual distress, or feeling unsettled about spiritual or
religious matters, than students who aren't as spiritual.

Being religious also could play a role in whether someone starts to drink
alcohol while in college. Three-fourths of students who don't drink beer
before attending college won't start in college if involved in religious
activity, the study says, but only 46 percent of students will continue to
abstain if not involved religiously.

Astin says the next question to answer is whether students who are more
religious and spiritual are more psychologically healthy or whether the
more psychologically healthy students are seeking religious and spiritual
activities.

The research also finds that 77 percent of college students pray, 78
percent discuss religion with friends, and 76 percent are "searching for
meaning and purpose in life."

Strongly religious students tend to describe themselves as politically
conservative, but they hold more liberal views on issues such as gun
control and the death penalty, the research finds.

The project is paid for by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.