Are religious people happier? Here’s what the science says – Deseret News

Debates about the impact of religion in the world have been going on for a long time. There is one facet of that debate, however, which, scientifically speaking, is largely settled. From the standpoint of statistics and empirical evidence, how much do we know about whether religious or nonreligious people are happier?

A lot, it turns out. The literature on health in general and religion is vast. An Oxford University Press book summarizing the research on the subject, for example, comes in at almost 900 pages. In the analysis in this “Handbook of Religion and Health,” they reviewed 326 articles on the relationship between health and measures of “religiosity and subjective well-being, happiness, or life satisfaction,” finding that 79% of those studies reported that religious people were happier, while only 1% reported that they were less happy (the rest found no or mixed findings).

Just because something is correlated, of course, doesn’t imply causation, so just because religion and happiness tend to go together does not mean that religion causes happiness. Yet this same Oxford book found a dozen studies that were randomized control trials — the gold standard of establishing cause and effect — where people were randomly assigned to different religious interventions, and in more than half of them, simply assigning people to various interventions encouraging them to be more religious led to measurable increases in happiness.

The finding of a relationship between happiness and religiosity is so established that many research papers take it as a given starting point. For example, a recent paper published in one of the most prestigious social science journals on whether religiosity makes it easier to deal with unemployment (it does, with some caveats) states that it is a “well-known research finding … that, in general, the religious are happier than the non-religious.”

So, how does anyone actually measure happiness? It’s actually quite easy. Just asking people how happy they are has been shown to be related to a wide variety of other measures of well-being, so researchers can easily include a single-question measure about happiness in a survey that is valid for research on the concept of happiness.

The happiness-faith relationship is strong enough that it shows up almost any way you slice the data or ask the question. Sometimes researchers will say “it’s complicated,” but it’s really not. With the exception of a few very particular contexts in those 1% of studies finding a negative relationship, whenever you run an analysis on this, the religious are almost always happier.

For instance, almost every year, a large survey with a wide variety of questions is disseminated among Americans called the General Social Survey. For many years now, this survey has asked the simple question:

Taken all together, how would you say things are these days — would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy or not too happy?

With available answers of “Very happy,” “Pretty happy” and “Not too happy.”

When you dig into the past three years of surveys — 2018, 2021, and 2022 — and look at how many people identify as happy by how often they go to church, the pattern is clear.

Specifically, almost 1 in 3 frequent religious service attenders say they are “very happy,” while among non-attenders it is about 1 in 5. Conversely, about 15% of frequent religious service attenders say they are “not too happy,” whereas for non-attenders it is 23%.

The fact that 15% of frequent attenders are still “not too happy,” of course, shows that there is a lot more influencing happiness in our lives than just religion, and that religiosity is not a panacea. Still, the overall pattern is unavoidable.

But why? It is true that we are social creatures, and that religion provides precious social connections and networks that are in short supply in the year 2024.

Many people point to this as one possible reason. No question it plays a role. However, more individual, less social aspects of faith, such as religious beliefs and prayer, also show positive influences on well-being. This evidence of benefits from believing in, and communicating with, a higher power that is watching over you, suggests that this security bleeds over into security and well-being in multiple domains of life.

Originally Appeared Here

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About the Author: Rayne Chancer