Harvard prof praises religion’s role in tackling the ‘loneliness epidemic’ and bringing happiness

Harvard prof praises religion’s role in tackling the ‘loneliness epidemic’ and bringing happiness

Faith plays a crucial role in living a happy life, Harvard Professor and social scientist Arthur Brooks has said.

There’s a lot of research on the main happiness habits but faith and life philosophy are the first factors to be considered, Professor Brooks told The Irish Catholic newspaper.

“What you do find is that people who don’t pay attention to things larger than themselves, the transcendental questions, the big questions of life and the universe, those people tend to be a lot less happy because they’re way too focused day to day to day on the quotidian trivialities of their life.

“You know, we need relief and perspective, and that’s why the transcendental….is so critically important,” Prof. Brooks said.

Prof. Brooks is a practicing Roman Catholic himself and said “It’s literally the most important thing in my life”, but that looking at the data he understands “that there are other ways to attain the happiness benefits as well”.

The “transcendental benefits” that people get from any “serious life philosophy or religious tradition” are that which brings a person “outside oneself” which gives them peace, Prof. Brooks said.

Much modern discontent, particularly the “loneliness epidemic” has fear at its root, Prof. Brooks said.

“Loneliness is at epidemic proportions, not just because of the coronavirus epidemic. We started to see these problems coming much earlier,” he said.

“The biggest problem…loneliness obviously is a lack of love. It’s a lack of love in your life. The main reason that we have a lack of love in our life is because we have too much fear. Fear and love are opposites,” which is a principle to be found in religious literature, Prof. Brooks said.

“St John the Apostle said that perfect love drives out fear, Lao Tzu said the same thing in the Tao Te Ching, but it’s also neurologically true. I mean, love and fear are the opposite emotions produced by the limbic system of the brain.

“It’s also psychologically the case that if you want to treat somebody that has too much fear, you need more love in their lives, and if they don’t have enough love, you need to address the root cause which is fear.”

Prominent psychiatrist, Professor Patricia Casey confirmed the role religion plays in wellness, saying that in her reading around the subject and her experience “it [religion] does help people through illness of various sorts, physical illness, psychiatric illness….being able to pray, being able to turn to God – it gives people comfort and hope.

“That’s what you would expect, that believing in an afterlife is a cause for hope, joy and comfort,” Prof. Casey said.

“The Royal College of Psychiatrists takes a view that a religious history should be taken, that we should take a holistic history. We talk about being holistic – physical, psychological, but we also need to look at the spiritual and religious side.

“That means taking a religious and spiritual history.”

Read Professor Brooks’ full interview with The Irish Catholic here.