Drawing on a wealth of new evidence, pioneering research psychologist David DeSteno shows why religious practices and rituals are so beneficial to those who follow them—and to anyone, regardless of their faith (or lack thereof).
Scientists are beginning to discover what believers have known for a long time: the rewards that a religious life can provide. For millennia, people have turned to priests, rabbis, imams, shamans, and others to help them deal with issues of grief and loss, birth and death, morality and meaning. In this absorbing work, DeSteno reveals how numerous religious practices from around the world improve emotional and physical well-being.
With empathy and rigor, DeSteno chronicles religious rites and traditions from cradle to grave. He explains how the Japanese rituals surrounding childbirth help strengthen parental bonds with children. He describes how the Apache Sunrise Ceremony makes teenage girls better able to face the rigors of womanhood. He shows how Buddhist meditation reduces hostility and increases compassion. He demonstrates how the Jewish practice of sitting shiva comforts the bereaved. And much more.
DeSteno details how belief itself enhances physical and mental health. But you don’t need to be religious to benefit from the trove of wisdom that religion has to offer. Many items in religion’s “toolbox” can help the body and mind whether or not one believes. How God Works offers advice on how to incorporate many of these practices to help all of us live more meaningful, successful, and satisfying lives.
About the Author
David DeSteno is a professor of psychology at Northeastern University and the author of Emotional Success and The Truth About Trust, and coauthor of Out of Character. He frequently writes for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, Harvard Business Review, and The Atlantic. He received his PhD in psychology from Yale University.
“What do you get when you cross spiritual wisdom with modern science? A whole bunch of smart ideas about how to live a happier, healthier, and more meaningful life. A delightful and illuminating read.” —Daniel Gilbert, professor of psychology at Harvard Universityand author of Stumbling on Happiness
“A masterful and continually surprising tour of how spiritual practices around the world anticipated the latest evidence-based insights from the science of behavior change. DeSteno provides a compelling scientific defense of the power of ancient traditions and shows how we can all use them to improve our health, connection, and happiness.” —Laurie Santos, professor of psychology at Yale University and host of The Happiness Lab podcast
“This is a book on religion that even an atheist can love. One of the leading psychologists of our time shows how the world’s religions provide technologies that anyone can use to live their best lives. Clear, engaging, and very persuasive, How God Works will change the way you think about faith and science.” —Paul Bloom, professor of psychology atYale University and author of The Sweet Spot
“DeSteno shows convincingly that whatever we think of the underlying theology, religious rituals work! Fine-tuned over centuries of practice, they help us cope with major life transitions, comfort us in times of fear or grief, and encourage us to show gratitude, exhibit compassion, practice community, and find enduring happiness.” —Mark U. Edwards, Jr., former professor and dean of academic affairs at Harvard Divinity School
“How God Works explores the rituals of religions and delves into the science of psychology to show how seamlessly the two can work together. This isn’t a work about one god or one religion. It is a thought-provoking, useful book that points us toward happier, healthier lives.” —Sharon Salzberg, author of Lovingkindness and Real Change
“How God Works makes a brilliant case for ‘spiritual technologies’ for the believer, the skeptic, and the atheist alike. DeSteno offers a scientific explanation for why and how the prayer, rituals, and community-building practices of the world’s religions help make us more resilient, happy, and moral people.” —Angela Buchdahl, Senior Rabbi, Central Synagogue, New York
"An exceptional and expertly researched study of the science of believing in the divine …This thorough, insightful study will convince readers that worship itself is a boon for mental and physical health.” —Publishers Weekly
“For many, COVID-19 seems to have brought existential questions to the fore. Research scientist and psychologist DeSteno offers findings based on his and others' work about how humans make meaning throughout a lifespan…Parents, teachers, and religious leaders will appreciate Desteno's work, which is accompanied by copious endnotes.”—Booklist