Religious cultures teach their followers about various aspects of the world and life. Religious teachings also educate people about the human mind, emotions, and behavior, among other important things in their lives.
So, believers’ emotional experiences, expressions, and even their overall emotional well-being have always been heavily influenced by the religious cultures and communities in which they were raised and lived (e.g., Saroglou, 2010; 2011; Tsai et al., 2013; for a review, see Karandashev, 2021a).
Desirable and Undesirable Emotions in Religious Cultures
Cross-cultural researchers explored the desirability of happiness, pride, love, gratitude, and jealousy; and sadness, shame, guilt, and anger. Some emotions are of special interest to us in this context. Researchers discovered that Christians more often than Buddhists and Muslims prefer to experience love ideally. At the same time, Christians tend to experience love in real life more frequently than people of the other two religious groups.
On the other hand, Muslims tend to consider sadness and shame more normative in daily life compared to Jews, Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus. Muslims also tend to experience these two emotions more frequently in their real lives than Jews, Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus.
Another interesting finding is that Buddhists experience fewer dips or peaks in any emotion in comparison with the emotional experiences of Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Hindus. Buddhism teaches people that life is full of suffering, sorrow, and grief. And to achieve the state of “enlightenment” is the best way to end this suffering in our daily lives (Kim-Prieto & Diener, 2009; Smith, 1991).
What Religion Tells Us About Gratitude in Life
According to many religious cultural norms and practices, experiences and expressions of gratitude are possibly the most valuable elements of a person’s daily emotional life.
A cross-cultural study found that religious people tend to have a grateful attitude in their lives. This is how they perceive themselves and how their peers perceive them. Religiously spiritual people feel more thankful in their daily dispositions and moods than others.
For instance, Christians believe that expressions of thankful joy, gratitude, and love toward God are indications of people’s sincere emotional experiences. (McCullough, Emmons, & Tsang, 2002; McCullough et al., 2002). From a small study of Catholic priests and nuns, it was found that gratitude and love are the two feelings that people have toward God the most (Samuels & Lester, 1985).
The religious cultures of Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam also greatly praise the values of emotional gratitude. For them, it is among the important and desired emotional attitudes for people to live a good life (Emmons & Crumpler, 2000; Kim-Prieto & Diener, 2009).
What Religion Tells Us About Forgiveness in Life
Religious culture also teaches people about other desirable prosocial emotions. For example, people who are religious place a higher value on being forgiving than people who are not religious (Rokeach, 1973). It is important for us to keep in mind that the concept of forgiveness might have different connotations depending on the religious culture (Cohen et al., 2006).
What Religion Tells Us about Values of Negative and Positive Emotions in Life
Cultural attitudes toward experience and expression of guilt and anxiety vary within Christianity. It would appear that those who adhere to Catholicism are more motivated by emotions of guilt and anxiety than those who follow Protestantism (Hutchinson, Patock-Peckham, Cheong, & Nagoshi, 1998).
When compared to Catholics in Europe, Protestants in the United States of America have more emotionally positive personality traits, such as high extraversion and low neuroticism. They feel less discomfort encountering new challenges, and they are more open to new experiences in their lives. This is in contrast to Catholics in Europe (Saroglou, 2010).
Here are the three summaries of other interesting findings: Dispositional attributions are more common among Protestants than Catholics in situations they encounter and emotions they experience. They are more likely to attribute their experiences to their own internal and personal qualities than to external circumstances (Li et al., 2012). This can explain why, in the case of marital divorce, Protestants experience fewer and less extensive negative emotional effects than Catholics (Clark & Lelkes, 2005).
Protestants in Germany experience deeper and more frequent trust in other people in various circumstances of life than Catholics. And both Protestants and Catholics have more trust in others than non-religious people (Traunmiiller, 2011). Christians and Buddhists are similar in some respects, while they are different in others. People who identify themselves with Christian or Buddhist religious culture value the positive emotions of low arousal and intensity. In addition, there are some religious and cultural differences. Christians are more inclined than Buddhists to support high-arousal positive states. Christians are also less likely than Buddhists to support low arousal positive states (Tsai, Miao, Seppala, 2007).