The study tested 315 children aged 9 to 12, measuring spirituality and other factors such as temperament and social relations that can affect an individual's sense of happiness.
"Our goal was to see whether there's a relation between spirituality and happiness," said Mark Holder, associate professor of psychology and the study's co-author. "We knew going in that there was such a relation in adults, so we took multiple measures of spirituality and happiness in children."
Past studies have shown that in adults, spiritual feelings and higher levels of religious behavior typically account for about 5% of a person's overall happiness, said a UBC statement.
The results of the UBC study came as a surprise: 6.5 to 16.5% of children's happiness can be accounted for by spirituality.
"From our perspective, it's a whopping big effect," said Holder. "I expected it to be much less — I thought their spirituality would be too immature to account for their well-being."
Children in the study were asked to rate statements such as "I feel a higher power's presence," and answer questions including, "how often do you pray or meditate privately outside of church or other places of worship?"
Parents were also asked to describe each child's apparent happiness and spirituality, and teachers rated each child's happiness level.
The study's authors plan to conduct the same research in India to see whether children score similar results in a country not dominated by Christianity.
By Ron Csillag