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Many of us go through life without a sense of faith in anything greater than ourselves or our families. But increasingly, research shows that faith in a higher spiritual reality makes life much, much better.
How? Well, in at least five specific areas of investigation multiple studies have proven that having faith – in a higher power, in a religion, in a Creator – can help us navigate our existence on this planet with greater happiness and well-being.
1. Faith gives your life meaning and purpose
Faithlessness has created a loss of meaning in our current culture. Developing a comprehensive moral system independent of God and faith has not proven easy. For people who have God on their minds, hearts and on their lips, religion provides a model – a spiritual and moral explanation of life.
Going to faith-based study sessions and devotionals often provides a more reliable boost in mental health than belonging to an active group like a book club, political organization or a sports team, according to research by the London School of Economics and Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands: “God and religion appears to play a very important social role in keeping depression at bay and also as a coping mechanism during periods of illness in later life,” said Mauricio Avendano, an epidemiologist with the study, which analyzed 9,000 Europeans over a four-year period.
American psychologist Jennifer Harstein said the findings were not surprising. Because religion tends to have longer lasting power than other types of activities for many people, she said, “Our religious affiliation is something that’s longer term. You can go, you can leave, it’s always there,” she told NBC’s Today Show. “It’s sustained, like happiness, whereas a sports group ends. It might be seasonal. Or a volunteer opportunity might end.”
The Baha’i teachings offer an ocean of this kind of lasting sustenance, starting with the many volumes of deeply spiritual writings of Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Faith, who advised the Baha’is to:
Immerse yourselves in the ocean of My words, that ye may unravel its secrets, and discover all the pearls of wisdom that lie hid in its depths. Take heed that ye do not vacillate in your determination to embrace the truth of this Cause – a Cause through which the potentialities of the might of God have been revealed, and His sovereignty established. With faces beaming with joy, hasten ye unto Him. This is the changeless Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 136.
2. Faith helps you cope with the ups and downs of life
The mind is incredibly powerful, which makes our thoughts our reality. We can use our minds for good, but they can also go to dark places when focused on tests, trouble and negativity. In times of trouble, we tend to move away from positivity – fear can kick in, and fear essentially describes a lack of faith and love. Having faith helps replenish love and abundance in the heart and the spirit, not just in the mind. The Baha’i teachings ask us to use our thoughts to aspire toward the spiritual realities of life:
The reality of man is his thought, not his material body. The thought force and the animal force are partners. Although man is part of the animal creation, he possesses a power of thought superior to all other created beings.
If a man’s thought is constantly aspiring towards heavenly subjects then does he become saintly; if on the other hand his thought does not soar, but is directed downwards to centre itself upon the things of this world, he grows more and more material until he arrives at a state little better than that of a mere animal. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 17-18.
What we focus on in our lives, we get more of. If we focus on problems, we can live solely in those problems and have difficulty moving past the negativity. However, when we focus on positivity and seek out real solutions based on faith, it can help us resolve our problems and move from a state of fear and negativity to a state of love, abundance, and faith.
When we hold an unwavering faith, we gravitate towards a higher level of consciousness. We attract good things because we believe and expect that good things will come. Similarly, when we believe and expect bad things to come, we also attract negativity into our lives. So faith can provide the pathway for spiritual abundance:
Inspire then my soul, O my God, with Thy wondrous remembrance, that I may glorify Thy name. Number me not with them who read Thy words and fail to find Thy hidden gift which, as decreed by Thee, is contained therein, and which quickeneth the souls of Thy creatures and the hearts of Thy servants. – Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations, p. 83.
3. Faith: the source of joy and happiness
Going through life, even those with faith get tested. We may question our very existence, but through all of the difficulties and tribulations we face, faith gives us meaning. It works to guide us in the right direction, moving us towards and allowing us to discover our higher nature – which leads to joy:
Joy gives us wings! In times of joy our strength is more vital, our intellect keener, and our understanding less clouded. We seem better able to cope with the world and to find our sphere of usefulness.
But when sadness visits us we become weak, our strength leaves us, our comprehension is dim and our intelligence veiled. The actualities of life seem to elude our grasp, the eyes of our spirits fail to discover the sacred mysteries, and we become even as dead beings.
There is no human being untouched by these two influences; but all the sorrow and the grief that exist come from the world of matter – the spiritual world bestows only the joy!
If we suffer it is the outcome of material things, and all the troubles and trials come from this world of illusion. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 109-110.
This recognition of the sources of joy and sadness doesn’t happen overnight. Usually, when we’re faced with a difficult situation it forces us to grow our love and faith for ourselves and our Creator. Little by little we draw on faith and God, until one day our actions become strengthened by faith and we find the strength we need to make it through.
That strength comes from our faith in something greater than ourselves, and that faith comes from God. Everything in life becomes far easier to get through when we have faith that God has our back and we are loved and not alone. Faith gives us purpose and fulfillment, and the expectation of good things to come:
… human happiness is founded upon spiritual behavior. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 127.
Anybody can be happy in the state of comfort, ease, health, success, pleasure and joy; but if one will be happy and contented in the time of trouble, hardship and prevailing disease, it is the proof of nobility …
Happiness consists of two kinds; physical and spiritual. The physical happiness is limited; its utmost duration is one day, one month, one year. It hath no result. Spiritual happiness is eternal and unfathomable ….
True happiness depends on spiritual good and having the heart ever open to receive the Divine Bounty. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, pp. 363-364.
4. Faith gives you certainty
Many people understand the two closely related concepts of faith and belief as the same thing – but they’re different. Belief means an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof; while faith means complete trust or confidence in someone or something. Faith combined with certainty gives us certitude, which the dictionary defines as “something established as inevitable; without doubt.”
Imagine if we lived our lives with more certainty – if we lived with more love, courage and power, we could find a freedom that gives way to tremendous joy. This joy is born of faith:
You who are the servants of God fight against oppression, hate and discord, so that wars may cease and God’s laws of peace and love may be established among men.
Work! Work with all your strength, spread the Cause of the Kingdom among men; teach the self-sufficient to turn humbly towards God, the sinful to sin no more, and await with glad expectation the coming of the Kingdom.
Love and obey your Heavenly Father, and rest assured that Divine help is yours. Verily I say unto you that you shall indeed conquer the world!
Only have faith, patience and courage – this is but the beginning, but surely you will succeed, for God is with you! – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 101.
From certitude comes confidence, the foundation where all our happiness begins. Genuine happiness arises from a sense of spiritual well-being and faith. Lean on your faith and you’ll soon realize why having faith is so important in living a spiritually confident life. When you live with confidence you don’t have to question yourself and everything around you. You understand that a meaning, a purpose, and a path for yourself all exist, which makes sense of everything that happens in the world around you. With faith, you can live free of fear and confident that your deeds and your inner character matter.
5. Faith can help you with your relationship
Faith strengthens our relationships with God – and with our loved ones. Faith allows us to love each other with compassion and honesty. According to recent studies published in the Journal of Family Psychology, spiritual intimacy and compassionate love can successfully guide a couple through the many challenges they may face, from parenting to preserving the warmest feelings for each other even after decades of marriage.
Other studies, including a General Social Survey (GSS) by NORC, a non-partisan research institution at the University of Chicago, found that people who have faith and believe in God are much less prone to cheating on their loved ones than those who don’t.
These studies help us better understand the bond that ties together marriage and religion, ensuring happier unions. Couples who strongly believe in marriage as a sacred bond tend to be much more satisfied with their relationships as they each become a true example of a deeper, more satisfying love. Their faith in God and each other forms a foundation for an intimate kind of love that encourages and motivates each spouse to put their loved ones’ needs above their own, ensuring that their marriage will keep thriving.
The bottom line: happy, lasting relationships can’t be built on looks, money, and superficial things. Happy relationships require faith – both in God and in each other. Faith means more than a recognition of God’s existence – having faith in God means relying on Him, trusting in Him, and being ready to act according to God’s teachings.