On religious devotion and longer lives

This week’s book learning is from Willpower by Roy Baumeister.

A study in the year 2000 found that a religious person was 26% more likely to be alive. This finding that non-religious people die sooner has been confirmed in multiple studies since.

The answer does not lie in divine intervention. Consider the following –

– Religious people were found to be less likely to be alcoholics or smokers, less likely to engage in risky sex, most likely to wear seatbelts, and more likely to go for regular health check ups
– They were found to have better social support. Their faith helped them deal better with misfortune
– Religion helps give provide believers with clear priorities – a key requisite for self control
– Religion fosters habits that build self control. Going to Sunday school is similar to “sit straight” – religious exercises are typical willpower building exercises (think: chanting hymns, mantras or fasting)
– Religious people feel answerable to a god who can’t be easily fooled. They are also conscious of being monitored by human eyes i.e. by other members of their community

In short, it takes great discipline to follow a religion!


Sketch by EB

A lot of simple “ancient” wisdom – sit straight, eat regularly, sleep on time, etc., is rooted in willpower. More willpower results in better habits and better lives. Religion is no different – it helps develop a communal habit whose pros often outweigh the cons.