WACO, Texas — Feeling in sync with a higher power may be the secret to happiness for some in their later years. A new study finds that praying regularly — and holding a strong belief in God — improves the well-being of seniors.
Researchers at Baylor University in Texas analyzed data from over 1,000 respondents who were 65 years of age or older, trying to address an age-old question: does faith play an increasing role in how good we feel as we get older?
An examination of the respondents— some of whom were practicing Christians, some former Christians, and some never affiliated with any faith— showed that the more that one felt attached to God, the more their well-being increased when they prayed.
“What we’re finding is that prayer can be associated with more or less well-being, depending on how you perceive God,” says lead researcher Blake Kent in a university news release.
The researchers explain that perceptions of a higher being vary greatly (e.g., one person may see God to be merciful and intimate, while someone else might view their God as being demanding and distant).
Kent issues a warning to those who believe piety is for everyone, saying that people who are not predisposed to prayer may even experience adverse side effects.
“There is a perception out there that prayer is automatically good for your well-being,” he says. “That may not be the case for everyone, because such a perception assumes that God is responsive and trustworthy. Many people don’t experience God that way.”
Overall, seniors who are suffering from declining health, age discrimination, a loss of companionship, increased stress, and a loss of financial freedom may benefit the most from praying to a loving God, the researchers suggest.
Many older individuals approach the end of life as an opportunity to make amends with God, much like they would with friends.
“A loving and supporting God who also is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient, may provide considerable comfort, assurance, and resilience to believers who are approaching the end of their lives,” Kent concludes.
The study’s findings were published in the Journal of Aging and Health.