by Dr. Tom Kennedy
Hebrews 10:24-26 (NIV)
24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
The best way to live longer, healthier, and happier is to avoid certain behaviors and increase other behaviors. Avoiding cigarettes, too much fatty food, drugs, and anxiety provoking situations are among the top things to avoid. We could easily brainstorm other items. Most of them are lifestyle choices that are called ‘risk taking’ in the research literature. Reducing risks to one’s mental and physical health increases one’s longevity and happiness.
What can you add to your life to increase the length and quality of it? You can exercise, eat more vegetables, marry (and stay that way), develop a group of supportive friends, and find meaning in your life. Did you know going to church regularly can improve your mental health and to a lesser extent your physical health? People who attend church at least once a week have, on average, healthier and happier lives than those who attend occasionally or not at all. Six decades of research has clearly shown this result.
Church attendance can give a person two healthy things to add to their life. As people settle into churches, most of them develop strong supportive relationships among the other members. During times of health and family stress these church friends pray for and encourage each other. Psychologists have realized for many years how powerful these relationships are and that there are very few organizations that can imitate the church’s ability to support its members.
What about bowling or soccer leagues? Can’t they substitute for church? Though different competitive activities can be ‘fun’ and provide a type of support group, church gives its members permission to share hurts, fears, and disappointments. Competition does not foster this kind of openness.
In addition worshipping at church is an expression of one’s reverence and gratitude to a God who demonstrates love, compassion, and sacrifice for us. The meaning we find in Jesus Christ tells us that the purpose for life is outside of ourselves. Our task is to focus on Him and we will find the meaning that we desperately seek and need. He leads us to invest ourselves in Him and into others. Isn’t it interesting that psychological research has shown that people who have a purpose in life derived from outside of themselves are happier and healthier than the self-centered.
I can’t guarantee if you will be happier and healthier if you attend church regularly. Psychological research only shows that on average people who attend church once a week or more are healthier and happier. But psychology indicates that two of the best, if not the best, behaviors to increase in your life are to give yourself to God and frequently go to His church.
It’s the healthy thing to do.
References: Koenig, H. G. (2008). Medicine, Religion, and Health: Where Science and Spirituality Meet.