- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 11, 2003

Who has the merriest Christmas?

It’s just as the old country pastor says: Those who keep the Christ in Christmas have the most satisfying holiday.

“Religious people are happier than those without spirituality in their life,” notes a new study from Britain’s University of Warwick.

And those who keep their religious practices intact at yuletide, the study found, are happier than those who rely on the pleasures of shopping for their holiday meaning.

The researchers based their conclusion on surveys of 57 men and 44 women from Britain who completed complex questionnaires meant to establish “a link between Christianity and happiness.”

And establish it, they did.

“Religious people seem to have a greater purpose in life, which is why they are happier,” noted project director and psychologist Stephen Joseph on Monday.

“Looking at the research evidence,” he continued, “it seems those who celebrate the Christian meaning of Christmas are, on the whole, likely to be happier. The research shows that too much materialism in our lives can be terrible for happiness.”

Mr. Joseph also said people who foster a sense of community through charitable donations and helping others also proved happier than those just looking to fatten up their own pocketbooks.

“Christmas is a reminder of that message,” he added.

Still, Americans are shopping more than ever. They will spend a predicted $217 billion in the next few weeks, according to the National Retail Federation, up almost 6 percent from last year.

Myvesta, a Rockville-based financial-counseling service, breaks the shopping down even further. The average shopper will shell out $835 this year, up from $722 a year ago, according to its analysis.

The biggest shoppers are those between 25 and 34, who spend $1,249, followed by married people, who shell out $899. Men spend more than women — $882 to $792 — with folks in the Northeast outspending those in the West — $1,191 to $574.

Yet some new research might suggest that Americans might be able to balance their checkbooks and their spiritual lives.

A Gallup poll released Friday found that 61 percent of Americans surveyed said religion is “very important in their own lives,” and almost two-thirds said they are a member of a church or synagogue. Overall, about a third attend services every week.

Republicans are among the most spiritually inclined: 67 percent consider religion as “very important,” as opposed to 63 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of independents.

They also attend church more frequently. Among Republicans, 51 percent said they had attended church in the past week; the figure stood at 44 percent for Democrats and 35 percent for independents.

The poll of 1,004 adults was taken Nov. 10 to 12.

Women are more spiritually inclined than men, the survey found, with 69 percent citing the importance of religion, compared with 53 percent of men.

Among the respondents, 53 percent said they were Protestant, 23 percent Catholic, 7 percent “other Christian,” and 2 percent were Jewish and 2 percent Mormon. The most common Protestant denomination was Baptist at 12 percent, followed by Methodist, Southern Baptist, Presbyterian, “nondenominational,” Lutheran, Church of Christ and Episcopalian.

Separate polls taken in Canada and Britain by Gallup earlier this year found that only 28 percent of Canadians and 17 percent of the British rated religion as “important.”

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