NCLS Research

Personal Wellbeing

Defining wellbeing

The research defines subjective well-being as an aspect of mental health. Subjective well-being research is concerned with how and why people experience their lives in positive ways. There appear to be three central concepts that make up quality of life: psychological happiness, life satisfaction and purpose.
Psychological happiness refers to sensations, feelings or moods. Life satisfaction involves evaluating whether one’s needs, goals or wishes are fulfilled. Purpose can perhaps be defined as human flourishing. Sirgy (2012) proposes that these three quality of life constructs correspond with a pleasant, engaged and meaningful life – all aspects that may be defined as authentic happiness.

The churches and well-being: perspectives from the Australian National Church Life Survey

NCLS Research looks at the intersection between well-being and religion in the Australian context, including the wellbeing of church leaders and church attenders. Relationships between religious involvement and practice, and personal wellbeing are examined.
The research defines subjective well-being as an aspect of mental health and seeks to establish the relationship with religion. Australia is a wealthy nation with high levels of well-being but declining indicators of religiosity. To explore mental health, the research primarily focuses on positive indicators of quality of life, well-being or human flourishing.

Relationships between religion and well-being

In the second edition of the Handbook of Religion and Health, Koenig et al. (2012) reported that 73% found positive relationships between greater religiousness and greater well-being.
In what they claim to be the first-ever representative sample of the world and a representative sample of the USA, Diener, Tay and Myers (2011) found that religiosity in Buddism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam, tended to be associated with subjective well-being. The literature contains a lot of evidence that beliefs affect subjective well-being in a positive way. Religious people are generally happier than non-religious people, irrespective of their faith. Additionally, the degree to which God or religion is important is generally positively related to life satisfaction and happiness.
People with strong religious beliefs tend to experience higher levels of life satisfaction than those with weaker religious beliefs. Stronger religious beliefs may also buffer people against negative life events. Some studies have also found a positive relationship between certain religious approaches and well-being. Regular engagement in religious activities appears to be positively related to subjective well-being. Further, Koenig et al. (2012) found that church attendance was positively related to well-being.

Religion and well-being in the Australian cultural context

Researchers have concluded that psychological benefits of religion are greatest in poor countries.
The majority of Australians maintain a religious affiliation, but all religious indicators are in decline. In 1901, 96% of Australians claimed a Christian affiliation in the five-yearly national census. By 1991, this had declined to 74%. In 2011, 68% of Australians claimed religious affiliation: 61% identify with Christian denominations and 7% identify with other religions.
Various sample survey of the Australian populations show a decline in ‘belief in the existence of God or some other kind of higher power’ from around 78% in 1993 to 69% in 2009. Frequent church attendance (at least monthly) has also declined from a high point of 44% in the 1950s to 15% in 2009 (Powell. 2013).

Volunteering, religiosity and well-being: Interrelationships in Australian churchgoers

Existing research has mostly found positive but sometimes inconclusive and contradictory results about the relationship between volunteering and well-being, as well as between church attendance and volunteering. Part of the reason why church attenders with high religiosity have higher well-being is because they are more likely to volunteer.

Subjective well-being, religious involvement and psychological type among Australia churchgoers

In a sample of 1,855 churchgoers who completed the 2011 NCLS, the data demonstrated a positive relationship between extraversion and well-being. Religiousness and well-being were also positively related, however denominational affiliation made no difference.

Subjective wellbeing and psychological type among Australian clergy

Like attenders, Australian clergy with an extravert preference are significantly more likely to experience higher levels of subjective well-being than introverts.

Spirituality and work engagement amongst church leaders

The results using data from 1,230 church leaders showed positive relationships between resources and work engagement. However, as job demands increased, the positive relationship between spiritual resources and work engagement decreased. The patterns were not significantly different for clergy in comparison to lay leaders.

Interacting religious orientations and personal well-being

Some religious styles and orientations appear more conducive to reported personal well-being than others.

More information

Australian spirituality

Wider community research

See also Research Papers for more information...

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