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Father's Legacy Letter 

Father's Legacy Letter

As human beings, we have an innate capacity to love and care for the wellbeing of others. Although we often consider this in the context of caregiving roles as a parent or family member, this capacity also extends beyond our kin, to caring about and wanting to promote the wellbeing of other people in our wider social circle including friends, acquaintances, people in our community, and even extending to people we don’t personally know.

This capacity to love and care for others, not only benefits those in our family and community, but has also been shown to benefit our own psychological wellbeing and physical health, improving self-esteem and reducing feelings of depression1. In addition, it promotes social connection, enhances belonging, and strengthens the social relationships and bonds that are so critical for our wellbeing.

Although there are multiple societal scaffolds that promote care for others in the community, and in turn our collective wellbeing, one such scaffold is spirituality and religion. Many religions around the world have loving others (sometimes called compassionate love) as a central tenet to their scriptures, and religious activities often strengthen social connection across the community. This connection

is reinforced by studies showing that religiosity and spirituality are positively associated with compassionate love for close others (i.e. friends, family) as well as for humanity (i.e. strangers)2.

In addition, research studies from around the globe have increasingly highlighted the positive relationship between people’s religious beliefs and spirituality and their mental health and wellbeing3. In particular, having religious beliefs or spirituality is associated with fewer symptoms of depression, a lower incidence of suicide, lower severity of alcohol or substance use, and improved coping with adverse life events4–8. Furthermore, research looking at how religious beliefs and spirituality impact the brain have revealed changes in brain structure and function that are proposed to contribute to these protective effects 9,10.

However, across much of the Western world, there has been a steady decline in the active practice of religion. For example, recent reports from Gallup and Pew Research Foundation have shown that in the United States, there has been a steady decline in the importance of God and an increase in the number of people identifying as non-religious, while in Europe, the number of actively practicing Christians has steadily declined11,12. However, this contrasts with other regions (e.g. Africa, Latin America) and religions (e.g. Islam) where religious salience remains high13,14.

Concurrently, in some populations around the world, evidence suggests that the love and care we feel for others in our community is on the decline. For example, in the United States studies suggest a generational increase in narcissism, resulting in lower empathy, less concern for others, and less civic


engagement15. Other studies have suggested a global increase in individualistic practices and values over collective ones16.

This rapid report probes the relationship between these various factors: love and care for others, mental wellbeing, spirituality, and religious practice, and how they relate to global trends. It describes how one’s spirituality (defined here as a sense of connection to the divine) relates to one’s feelings of love and care for the wellbeing of others; how active religious practice (e.g. attending services, reading scriptures) relates to these feelings of love and care; whether love for others and spirituality have distinguishingimpacts on people’s mental wellbeing; and how this reflects across the globe.

About the Global Mind Project

The Global Mind Project is the largest and most comprehensive study of mental wellbeing in the world. Spanning 65+ countries in 14 languages, it currently collects 1000-2000 new data responses each day and, since 2020, has collected responses from over 1.4 million people around the globe.

The project uses an assessment called the MHQ which collects data across 47 aspects of mental wellbeing, together with information on demographics, lifestyle, and life experience, including love for others, spirituality, and religious practice (see methods for more information on the assessment). It therefore provides a unique opportunity to study the interaction between these factors in a large, globally diverse population. The data from this ongoing study is openly available to academic and nonprofit research organizations.