But what principles can we learn about ourselves and human nature from religious practice?
What need does it fill that make it stand the test of time and how can we incorporate those into our lives — whether we believe or not?
A few ideas:
- Seeing friends and family / being part of a group: Research shows the bulk of the benefit from religion comes not from belief, but from practice. Going to church, temple, mosque, etc. and participating with others is what brings so much joy. Religious or not, focusing on others makes us happy and the happiest people are the ones with the best relationships.
- Prayer / Meditation: Prayer can be beneficial even if you don’t believe. It can help anyone better control their emotions. Meditation can increase happiness, meaning in life, social support and attention span while reducing anger, anxiety, depression and fatigue.
- Forgiveness: Forgivness can improve your health. Forgiving yourself can help you reduce procrastination, increase creativity and improve self-control.
- An emphasis on giving: Money can buy happiness if we spend it on other people. Being ethical makes us happier.
- Meaning in life: Studies show that a good portion of the benefit from religion comes from the meaning it gives to life. Humans need meaning to be happy but it doesn’t have to come from faith. A strong sense of meaning also makes us more likable to others, which creates a self-reinforcing effect. Superstition increases performance. Believing in fate helps us cope with the tragedies of life. We feel less stress when we understand the world and feel in control.