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Religion and Well-Being: The Mediating Role of Positive Emotions

Abstract

Research has consistently shown that endorsing a religion or spirituality is to some extent related to one’s well-being. Common studied explanations tap into the social and cognitive aspects of religion and spirituality. The present research aims at understanding how religiosity and spirituality exert their impact on well-being and investigates the role of a surprisingly neglected mechanism: positive emotions. Two cross-sectional studies using a quantitative approach are presented. In two different contexts (churchgoers in a European country and US university employees interested in meditation), results showed that the relation between religion (Study 1), spirituality (Study 2) and well-being is mediated by positive emotions. Distinguishing between more and less relevant positive emotions in a religious/spiritual context, it was found that the effect was mediated by self-transcendent positive emotions (awe, gratitude, love, and peace) but not by other positive emotions (amusement and pride).

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Peacefulness does not typically appear on lists of self-transcendent positive emotions. It is actually an infrequent target of research. However, definitions of peacefulness/serenity include elements of self-transcendence (“a mindful broadening of a person’s self-views and world views,” Fredrickson 1998, p. 306) and peacefulness is a very common emotion reported during self-transcendent experiences such as mystical experiences (Spilka et al. 1992).

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Acknowledgments

Part of Study 2 data is published in Kok, Coffey, Cohn, Catalino, Vacharkulksemsuk, Algoe, Brantley, and Fredrickson (2013). Study 1was supported by a Doctoral Fellowship from the National Fund for Scientific Research, Belgium to Patty Van Cappellen. Study 2 was supported by National Institute of Mental Health Grant MH59615 to Barbara L. Fredrickson. The new analyses for Study 2 were rendered possible by a travel grant awarded by the National Fund for Scientific Research, Belgium FNRS; Excellence travel grant awarded by WBI-world; FSR travel grant for postdoctoral research by Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium to Patty Van Cappellen.

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Appendix: Perception of the Cognitive, Social, and Emotional Aspects of Religious Attendance (English translation and original French items)

Appendix: Perception of the Cognitive, Social, and Emotional Aspects of Religious Attendance (English translation and original French items)

Cognitive aspect:

  • The mass helps me to understand the truths about faith.

  •     La messe m’aide à comprendre les vérités de la foi.

  • The mass helps me to understand the meaning of the Bible.

  •     La messe m’aide à comprendre le sens de la Bible.

  • The mass helps in my personal reflection.

  •     La messe m’aide dans ma réflexion personnelle.

  • I particularly appreciate the homily because the ideas developed allow me to think.

  •     J’apprécie particulièrement l’homélie, car les idées qui y sont développées me permettent de réfléchir.

  • I particularly appreciate the biblical texts reading because it helps me in my personal reflection.

  •     J’apprécie particulièrement la lecture des textes bibliques, car elle m’aide dans ma réflexion personnelle.

Social aspect:

  • The mass allows me to be a part of the great family of believers.

  •     La messe me permet de faire partie de la grande famille des croyants.

  • During the mass, I feel that I maintain strong bonds with the members of my parish.

  •     Durant la messe, je sens que j’entretiens des liens forts avec les membres de ma paroisse.

  • During the mass, I feel closer to the other believers.

  •     Durant la messe, je me sens plus proche des autres croyants.

  • I particularly appreciate the moment when we all say the Our Father because I feel that we all belong to one great family.

  •     J’apprécie particulièrement le moment où nous disons tous le Notre Père car je sens que nous appartenons à une même grande famille.

  • I particularly appreciate collective gestures and speeches because they allow me to feel closer to others.

  •     J’apprécie particulièrement les gestes et les paroles collectifs, car ils me permettent de me sentir proche des autres.

Emotional aspect:

  • During the mass, I feel gratitude.

  •     Durant la messe, je ressens de la gratitude.

  • During the mass, I feel love.

  •     Durant la messe, je ressens de l’amour.

  • During the mass, I feel peace.

  •     Durant la messe, je ressens de l’apaisement.

  • During the mass, I feel awe.

  •     Durant la messe, je ressens de l’émerveillement.

  • During the mass, I feel pride.

  •     Durant la messe, je ressens de la fierté.

  • During the mass, I feel amusement.

  •     Durant la messe, je ressens de l’amusement.

  • I particularly appreciate the beauty of the church and the emotions I feel when I contemplate it.

  •     J’apprécie particulièrement la beauté de l’Église et les émotions que je ressens en la contemplant.

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Van Cappellen, P., Toth-Gauthier, M., Saroglou, V. et al. Religion and Well-Being: The Mediating Role of Positive Emotions. J Happiness Stud 17, 485–505 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-014-9605-5

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Keywords

  • Positive emotions
  • Religion
  • Spirituality
  • Well-being
  • Self-transcendent