Children who are more spiritual tend to be happier, according to a recently published study.
Children who are more religious, however, aren't necessarily happier, reported the team of researchers behind the study.
"Our finding of a strong relation between happiness and spirituality in children, but not between happiness and frequency of religious practice, suggests that spirituality and religious practice can be empirically separated," claimed the researchers led by Mark Holder from the University of British Columbia in Canada.
"This separation supports the idea that these constructs are independent and indicates that research should consider them separately," they added.
For years, the relation between well-being and religiousness and spirituality has been observed in various age groups. However, while research has been conducted on the relation between happiness and spirituality and religiousness in adults and adolescents, this relation has not been well-studied in children.
To investigate this relation in children, Holder's team of researchers went to 761 children from four public schools and 2 private schools. Each student, aged 8-12, was given packets containing information letters, consent forms, and questionnaires for their parents. Of the 761 packets distributed, only 476 returned – 359 of which included parental consent for their child's participation. And of the 359 positive consents, 320 children assented on test day.
For the study, the 320 remaining children were each given six questionnaires assessing their happiness, spirituality, religiousness, and temperament. Parents were also administered a questionnaire.
What researchers found after all the data was collected was that the frequency of religious practice – i.e., how often the children attended a place of worship and how often they prayed or meditated – was not significantly correlated with any of the four measures of happiness.
There was, however, a strong relation between happiness and spirituality in children.
"In the case of children, it seems that spirituality, but not religious practice, contributes to their happiness," the researchers reported.
The results came as a bit of a surprise for the team of researchers as past studies have reported a relation between spirituality and religiousness, and happiness and subjective well-being that increases with age for adults.
"[I]t is somewhat surprising that the relation between happiness and spirituality reported in the present study with children was stronger than that typically reported in adults," the researchers reported.
Assuming that spirituality enhances happiness by increasing personal meaning, the researchers suggested that strategies aimed at enhancing personal meaning in children's lives may promote happiness.
"Future studies could have children engage in activities that might promote personal meaning," they suggested.
"For example, children might volunteer to help others or record their contributions to the community in a journal. Then changes in happiness and personal meaning before and after these activities could be compared," the researchers stated.
"If personal meaning is critical to happiness, one might see that these activities particularly enhanced happiness for those children who showed increases in personal meaning," they concluded.
For the study, spirituality was considered as referring to an inner belief system that a person relies on for strength and comfort whereas religiousness refers to institutional religious rituals, practices, and beliefs.
Children aged 8 to 12 years were selected because they are old enough to identify and employ emotions, including happiness, in multifaceted social arenas.