Here’s an encouraging note as Thanksgiving gatherings give way to Christmas shopping during the current economic meltdown:

When older adults feel grateful for what they have in tough financial times, they’re less likely to be depressed than fellow seniors or middle-aged Americans who don’t feel grateful. And when older adults frequently go to church or otherwise are more deeply involved in their faith, they’re more likely to be grateful during tough times than  peers who aren’t.

So, clinging to your faith is good for your mental health?

That’s what the evidence shows, says Neal Krause, Ph.D., professor of health behavior and senior research scientist at the Institute of Gerontology, University of Michigan School of Public Health.

“Given the very difficult economic times that confront our nation,” Krause writes in a new paper,  “it is imperative that we find ways to help those individuals who are confronted by ongoing financial problems.”

His study, Krause adds, suggests “one potentially important option may be found through religion.”

Krause is among more than a dozen academics and medical professionals who will talk about the real-life implications of their latest research at an extraordinary conference, “Religious Practice and Health: What the Research Says,” to be sponsored by The Heritage Foundation on Wednesday, Dec. 3, at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.

Many middle-aged and elderly Americans believe God has a purpose and a plan for their lives, Krause notes. This plan often includes difficult experiences, or trials, but their faith teaches that God’s goal is to promote personal and spiritual growth.

“If religion helps people feel grateful, and older people are more likely to be involved in religion,” Krause suggests, “it follows that church-based interventions that are designed to enhance feelings of gratitude may be especially effective for our aging population.”

But hold on, it’s not just your mother’s faith. The mental health of young adults also gets a boost from the religious practices of their families, according to another participant in the “Religious Practice and Health” conference, Elizabeth C. Hair, Ph.D., senior research scientist at Child Trends, which — along with Baylor Institute for the Studies of Religion — is a Heritage research partner for the event

Specifically, Hair says, her study found parents’ strong faith is associated with their children’s own strong religious beliefs, “which are, in turn, associated with positive mental health in young adulthood.”

Krause and Hair will talk about such research findings on a panel slated to discuss the connection between religiosity and mental health.