Over the past 20 years, social scientists have found that religious beliefs and practices are linked to mental health and ability to function.

In a study called “Religion and mental health,” authors Prakash B. Behere, Anweshak Das, Richa Yadav and Aniruddh P. Behere discovered that religious people had lower rates of smoking, alcohol consumption and high blood pressure. Suicide rates, and even suicidal ideation, were also lower in religious people. 

Many religious traditions have specific guidelines relating to mental health. 

For example, the Jewish tradition promotes treatment of emotional and spiritual challenges in conjunction with physical ailments. Buddhism teaches practical knowledge about regulating one’s mind in a way that decreases suffering. Christianity encourages its followers to find comfort in God’s love and strength.

But must someone be explicitly religious or spiritual to gain the mental health benefits religion offers? It doesn’t seem that way — I know many atheists who are happy and well. I think that the difference might just be gratitude — being grateful for one’s life and presence on earth.

I have religious friends who find meaning in their life based on their belief in God, and I have non-religious friends who consider how many conditions of the universe had to line up for them to exist, and they find gratitude through that. While religions may offer specific tools for dealing with mental health challenges, tools can also be found in the secular world.

Support from friends, art, meditation and exercise all help in managing mental health challenges and stress. So take some time out of your day to sit quietly, make some art, go for a walk with a friend or pray — if that’s something you do. Take a moment to be grateful for your time on earth, in whatever way resonates with you.