More and more research is focusing on the positive sides of human lives, for example what makes for a good life, gives people meaning, or the importance of social ties on our wellbeing. In a recent book, How God Works: the Science Behind the Benefits of Religion by psychology professor David DeSteno, the author set out to study what it is science can learn in this regard by the age-old practices of religion.
Gratitude, for example, is a key element in many religious practices; christians often say grace before a meal, Jews give thanks to God with the Modeh Ani prayer every day upon awakening. When the author isolated the practice of gratitude to an experimental setting outside of religion, it appeared to make people more virtuous. In a study people were given the opportunity to get more money if they lied about the results of a coin flip, and consequently the majority (53 percent) did. However, when the author asked people to recall and think about a time when they felt grateful before the experiment, the amount of people that cheated decreased dramatically to 27 percent. This study adds on to more studies that show the positive benefits of gratitude, like making people more helpful, more generous, and more patient.
Other religious practices that can have positive implications in a secular context are meditation that elicits compassion or moving together in time which creates social connection. Read more about those examples here.
This kind of research can prove to be very useful in a world that is increasingly looking beyond the dichotomy of hedonic well-being. In Western society we see that more and more people are looking for meaning and a variety of experiences, besides – or maybe even instead – of happiness.