According to a study published this week in the American Journal of Epidemiology, people who attended religious services on a weekly basis or prayed or meditated daily during their youth reported greater life satisfaction and positivity during early adulthood. They were also less likely to have symptoms of depression, smoke, use drugs or have sexually transmitted diseases than people who did not share their religious habits.

Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health examined data from mothers in the Nurses' Health Study II and their children in the Growing Up Today Study. The researchers followed 5,000 children from 8 to 14 years old and discovered that those who participated in religious services at least weekly were about 18 percent more likely to report higher happiness between ages 22 and 30 than people who never attended religious services.

Additionally, people who attended religious services were almost 29 percent more likely to volunteer in their communities and 33 percent less likely to use drugs.

"These findings are important for both our understanding of health and our understanding of parenting practices," Ying Chen, author and research scientist at Harvard, said in a press release. "Many children are raised religiously, and our study shows that this can powerfully affect their health behaviors, mental health, and overall happiness and well-being."

In addition to service attendance, prayer and meditation also benefited children's well-being. Children and adolescents who prayed or meditated at least daily during childhood were 16 percent more likely to report higher happiness in their 20s. Thirty percent were less likely to become sexually active at a young age, and 40 percent were less likely to have STDs compared to people who did not pray or meditate.

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