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She calls the results “the most amazing science I had ever seen.” In the pairs Miller found in the data, shared spirituality (religious or otherwise)—if it reached back to the child’s formative years—was 80 per cent protective in families that were otherwise at very high risk for depression.It was the start of a long and sometimes rocky road for both Miller and the place of spirituality—however defined—in mainstream psychological thinking.Her argument is that brushes with depression are intrinsic to developmental and spiritual awakening.Teens in this often excruciating situation sometimes will turn to substance use, risky sex, physical danger—all of which are shortcuts to transcendence that ultimately have their roots in the same universal drive.The man bellowed his questions, and the pair nodded at one another and said, “Thank you,” in unison, and sat beside him.It astonished everyone in the car, including Miller and the man with the chicken, who grew quieter and more relaxed.

Across the world, the Tennessee study found, adolescents who were more religious than their peer groups had lower rates of depression and higher self-esteem.

Humans have an innate tendency to ascribe random and natural events to conscious agents and a hunger to belong to something larger than ourselves—both militant atheists and fervent believers can agree on this.

The urge is never sharper than in adolescence, when, in the fraught process of individuation, teens develop their own sense of the world and their place in it.

In fact, Miller declares, spirituality, if properly fostered in children’s formative years, will pay off in spades in adolescence.

An intensely felt, transcendental sense of a relationship with God, the universe, nature or whatever the individual identifies as his or her “higher power,” she found, is more protective than any other factor against the big three adolescent dangers.

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