LOS ALTOS, CA, April 17, 2014 – For those who may be unfamiliar with the origins of the holiday, Easter is Christianity’s commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus three days after his crucifixion, although much of its symbolism is borrowed from the Jewish Passover, a much older tradition celebrated around the same time of year. (For details on the origins of the Easter Bunny, you’ll have to read someone else’s column).
Depending on your perspective, Easter can mean any number of things. For some it’s nothing more than an entertaining folk tale. For others it’s the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, meant to inspire a deeper devotion to God. For others it’s a beacon of hope that there really is such a thing as life after death – maybe even life instead of death.
What does this have to do with health?
It’s no secret that uncertainty about the future can wreak havoc on one’s sense of well being – affecting everything from blood pressure to heart rate to mental stability. By some estimates, the stress underlying these conditions accounts for more than 60% of all doctor visits. It stands to reason, then, that our expectation of the future – perhaps even our ultimate future – could have a very real impact on what’s happening here and now in terms of both mind and body.
Back in 2006, The HealthCare Chaplaincy decided to explore this idea further in a study on the link between our thoughts about the hereafter and mental health. They concluded that there’s a “statistically significant inverse relationship” between belief in life after death and the severity of symptoms associated with several types of mental illness, including anxiety, depression, and obsession-compulsion. They also found that there was no significant association between mental stability and how often one attended religious services, suggesting that it’s more about the belief itself and not the activity meant to inspire this belief.
Another study, conducted on both Roman Catholics and atheists, determined that although negative beliefs about death led to increased anxiety about health, there didn’t appear to be any health benefit to having a positive belief about death. The responses were similar for both groups.
Although it would appear that these two studies leave us with a mixed bag of results, the underlying conclusion is the same – the influence that our beliefs about death has on our health.
What do you believe?
Is death the end of the story? A metaphorical reset button? Or might it be the continuation of the life we cultivate – the attitudes and actions we propagate – day in and day out? This last option provides the greatest hope and, therefore, a positive, sustaining influence to our lives, including our health. Although considering the possibilities of eternal life challenges humanity’s common assumptions, and may not seem as fun as hunting for colored eggs in the backyard, the potential payoff is certainly a lot more profound and lasting.