As Jews celebrated Passover and their exodus from Egypt, Christians around the world took part in Holy Week, celebrating their Savior’s path to the cross and Christ’s resurrection on Easter. In both remembrances, believers were reminded of the power of faith in sustaining optimism and hope. Such celebrations are important, but when faith moves beyond rituals to impact one’s life, it makes a difference.
Studies of centenarians, those over 100 years of age who are living healthy and happy lives, are often quick to include spirituality as one key source for their fountain of youth. Although no particular faith was isolated, having a strong belief system was a big factor in maintaining personal vitality.
Dan Buettner discusses his work with seniors: “I noticed when you ask the most highly functioning seniors how they are, they always say, ‘I feel good…thanks to God.’ Yet they may be blind and deaf and their bones hurt…. The fact that God is in control of their lives relieves any economic, spiritual, or well-being anxiety they might otherwise have. They go through life with the peaceful certitude that someone is looking out for them.”
Authentic faith provides a strong source of purpose and peace to believers of all ages. A WWII correspondent encountered a nun tending to some horribly wounded and diseased prisoners of war. He said to the nurse, "I wouldn't do that for a million dollars." The nun turned to him and replied, "Neither would I." Purpose can give meaning to even the most difficult tasks. Faith in what you hold sacred can play a critical role in integrating your life’s story around a bigger purpose and plan.
It can shape both your sense of calling and your ultimate optimistic view of the future. Believing that God calls you to love your neighbor easily translates into a fulfilling mission of service. Although Freud’s early focus on the neurotic influence of religion impacted the early thinking of mental health scholars, history shows that religious organizations were often the first to provide compassionate care to vulnerable people. In fact, the first hospitals were church-sponsored and priest-managed. Faith made a difference for believers and those they served.
But only recently has research shown that religious involvement has a powerful and beneficial effect in encouraging hope and meaning. Studies find that believers are more optimistic than non-believers and also regain happiness more quickly after experiencing a crisis.