- The Washington Times - Monday, January 12, 2009

The spiritual lives of children has come under close scrutiny by two different sets of researchers who reached the same conclusion. Spirituality is a good thing for youngsters, a positive influence.

It makes them happier - and healthier.

“Children who were more spiritual were happier,” said a University of British Columbia study released Friday, which methodically quantified the typical ups and downs in a young life.

The study, which questioned 320 children from four public schools and two religious schools about their spiritual practices, revealed that happiness was boosted by 26 percent among those children in touch with an “inner belief system.”

The research said that “spirituality was a significant predictor of happiness, even after removing the variance associated with temperament.”

The study itself did not emphasize the importance of institutional religious practices but focused more on the child’s sense of “personal meaning” - and their sense of such basic values as kindness toward others, altruism, meaningful relationships and volunteering.

All are associated with a spiritual life - and “enhanced well-being,” the study said.

“To make children happier, we may need to encourage them to develop a strong sense of personal worth,” said psychologist Mark Holder, who led the research.

The study was published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, an academic journal.

Ailing children can also benefit from spirituality.

A study released Friday by the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center found that children and teens suffering from such chronic and challenging illnesses as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) benefit from an active spiritual life.

“Higher levels of spiritual well-being were associated with fewer depressive symptoms and better emotional well-being,” said Dr. Michael Yi, a pediatrician who conducted the study of 155 youngsters, all who were struggling with the condition.

He found that one of the most important predictors of poorer overall quality of life was having “a poorer sense of spiritual well-being.”

Dr. Yi defines spirituality as “one’s sense of meaning or purpose in life or one’s sense of connectedness to the sacred or divine.”

He believes that a spiritual dynamic could help doctors treat IBD primarily ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease - along with asthma, sickle cell disease and other ailments.

“There are few studies looking at religious or spiritual coping in chronic illness, especially in this age group,” Dr. Yi said.

“We hope to further our studies to include other chronic illnesses and determine whether addressing patients’ spirituality in clinical settings would have a valuable impact on mental and physical health outcomes in patients with chronic illness.”

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