Where Do Americans Find Meaning in Life?

This month, my web browsing took me to an interesting survey.

In 2017, the Pew Research Center surveyed Americans to find out what it is that makes their lives meaningful.

Not surprisingly, spending time with family was the first thing those surveyed said brought meaning to their lives.

The second? Religion.

That’s right, religion provides more meaning to the lives of most Americans than their career, money, hobbies or homes (although these certainly made the list as well).

Bride and father walking down the aisle in a church
Photo by Alex Andrei/Shutterstock.com

In the open-ended survey, people also said they find meaning in friendship, learning and education, community, in doing good and in making a difference.

When I looked at the fabric of the many and varied communities that make up the United States, and all those things listed that make our lives meaningful, I saw one common denominator emerge: religion. And while I have heard a lot of folks say that they just aren’t interested in “organized religion,” I’d like to suggest that it might be time for them to take another look.

I understand that, to a lot of people, “organized religion” means “believe this or else.” In other words, for some of us, church was not a place where you were asked what you thought, it was a place where you were told what to think. And, for some, this was unpalatable.

Churches, mosques, temples, synagogues—it doesn’t matter which building you select, any of them can help you find all of the things that Americans are saying will bring meaning and joy to your life.

Well, fortunately, the “believe this or be damned” school of thought isn’t the only form of organized religion available. Whether its Inclusive Christianity, Reform Judaism, Unitarianism or Buddhism, you can usually find a religious organization, group, church or synagogue that aligns with your thoughts or that simply encourages your questions. In fact, if freedom of thought is truly your jam, you might like Scientology. Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard states: “Nothing in Scientology is true for you unless you have observed it and it is true according to your observation.”

Wherever your search for religious truth leads you, though, keep in mind that there are more things yet to be experienced at those old-fashioned brick-and-mortar buildings. Churches, mosques, temples, synagogues—it doesn’t matter which building you select, any of them can help you find all of the things that Americans are saying will bring meaning and joy to your life.

Family? Well, that starts with locating a partner or spouse. Just about every church, synagogue, mosque or temple will be happy to welcome folks to their singles groups, and those abound for just about every type of single person: teen, adult, parent, etc. (And while not every religious building has a group for gay singles, there are certainly plenty that do.)

Friends? Yes, you can go to chat rooms on the web and “meet” people without ever leaving your computer. The thing is, it’s a lot more fun to actually go places and do things with other people. You can hear them laugh, for one thing! Not to mention the fact that meeting new friends can have a very positive impact on your career, almost no matter what it is that you do for a living. And for kids, there’s just no safer place to let them run around and meet people than your church, mosque or synagogue.

Learning and education? Like a lot of American kids, I grew up going to religious school every week. But churches and synagogues frequently offer a great deal more education than simply Sunday school. My church, for example, has classes on subjects like “Knowing Who You Can Trust,” “How to Get Motivated,” and “Personal Values and Integrity,” along with more advanced spiritual classes and workshops. Others offer everything from Bible study classes to cooking seminars. All of which, again, can enhance your career or help you find friendship, a sense of community and bring you greater understanding of something that is important to you.

Doing good? Religious volunteers from every faith routinely organize to feed the hungry, care for the ill and aid the homeless. And, if you want to help people, you’re always welcome to come to my church! Whenever there is a natural disaster, Scientology Volunteer Ministers from all over the country are some of the first on the scene to help with supplies, first aid, and care of all kinds for both the disaster victims and the first responders.

Community? Religious buildings are meeting places in their neighborhoods—and many of those meetings are multi-denominational. From neighborhood block parties to AA meetings and teen dances, that wonderful church building on the corner is glad to welcome not just their own parishioners, but neighbors and friends as well. And let’s not forget the weddings, naming ceremonies, confirmations, bar mitzvahs and other joyous celebrations that religious institutions house.

So, to all you folks out there who keep saying that “organized religion just isn’t my thing,” I’d say, give it another try. In fact, I’d suggest that you go into a few of those brick-and-mortar buildings and talk to some of the people inside.

You might just find more meaning there.

And friends. Community. Doing good.

Laurie Bartilson
Always in search of wisdom and truth. I think for myself, and advise you to do the same.