Research by Closeburn resident Dr Rosemary Aird has found that shifting from traditional religious beliefs to self-focused spirituality is not making young adults happier.
A Closeburn researcher has investigated the links between spirituality, mental health and social behaviour as part of a groundbreaking new study.

Dr Rosemary Aird, a University of Queensland School of Population Health PhD graduate, found that moving away from traditional religious beliefs to trendy, self-focused spirituality is not making young adults happier.

According to the findings of the study, people with a belief in a spiritual or higher power other than God were at greater risk of poorer mental health and antisocial behaviour than those who rejected this belief.

Young men and women who held non-traditional beliefs were up to twice as likely to feel anxious and depressed and to have higher rates of disturbed and suspicious thoughts.

They were also more likely to believe in the paranormal and that they were special, unusual, or destined to be important, than those who rejected this belief.

The study was based on surveys of 3705 21-year-olds born in Brisbane.

Respondents were asked questions about whether or not they believed in God or another higher power, how often they went to church, and how often they took part in other religious activities.

Dr Aird, a 51-year-old agnostic, said her research demonstrated that most new non-religious forms of spirituality, which have “shifted away from a social-focus to a me-focus”, were too individualistic.

“Religious forms of spirituality among past generations tended to be more about social responsibility and obligation and collective interests,” Dr Aird said.

The New Spirituality promotes the idea that self-transformation will lead to a positive and constructive change in self and society.

“Their focus on self-fulfillment and self-improvement and the lack of emphasis on others’ well-being appears to have the potential to undermine a person’s mental health and social relationships.

“This focus may lead people to feel more isolated from others and to concentrate unduly on themselves and their own problems.”

Dr Aird said that television and popular culture are also influencing the religious beliefs and practices of young people, who often mixed and borrowed practices from many different old and new religions.

She also said only eight per cent of respondents attended church once a week, which appeared to reduce the likelihood of antisocial behaviour in young adulthood among males, but not females.

Dr Aird, who lectures in the School of Public Health at the Queensland University of Technology, spent last December teaching in Vietnam and is currently conducting health research in Borroloola, in the Northern Territory.

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