Religion and happiness
Religion and happiness have been studied by a number of researchers, and religion features many elements addressing the components of happiness, as identified by positive psychology. Its association with happiness is facillitated in part by the social connections of organized religion, and by the neuropsychological benefits of prayer and belief.
There are a number of mechanisms through which religion may make a person happier, including social contact and support that result from religious pursuits, the mental activity that comes with optimism and volunteering, learned coping strategies that enhance one's ability to deal with stress, and psychological factors such as "reason for being." It may also be that religious people engage in behaviors related to good health, such as less substance abuse, since the use of psychotropic substances is sometimes considered abuse.
The Handbook of Religion and Health describes a survey by Feigelman (1992) that examined happiness in Americans who have given up religion, in which it was found that there was little relationship between religious disaffiliation and unhappiness. A survey by Kosmin & Lachman (1993), also cited in this handbook, indicates that people with no religious affiliation appear to be at greater risk for depressive symptoms than those affiliated with a religion. A review of studies by 147 independent investigators found, "the correlation between religiousness and depressive symptoms was -.096, indicating that greater religiousness is mildly associated with fewer symptoms."
The Legatum Prosperity Index reflects the repeated finding of research on the science of happiness that there is a positive link between religious engagement and wellbeing: people who report that God is very important in their lives are on average more satisfied with their lives, after accounting for their income, age and other individual characteristics.
Surveys by Gallup, the National Opinion Research Center and the Pew Organization conclude that spiritually committed people are twice as likely to report being "very happy" than the least religiously committed people. An analysis of over 200 social studies contends that "high religiousness predicts a lower risk of depression and drug abuse and fewer suicide attempts, and more reports of satisfaction with sex life and a sense of well-being. However, the links between religion and happiness are always very broad in nature, highly reliant on scripture and small sample number. To that extent there is a much larger connection between religion and suffering (Lincoln 1034)." And a review of 498 studies published in peer-reviewed journals concluded that a large majority of them showed a positive correlation between religious commitment and higher levels of perceived well-being and self-esteem and lower levels of hypertension, depression, and clinical delinquency. A meta-analysis of 34 recent studies published between 1990 and 2001 found that religiosity has a salutary relationship with psychological adjustment, being related to less psychological distress, more life satisfaction, and better self-actualization. Finally, a recent systematic review of 850 research papers on the topic concluded that "the majority of well-conducted studies found that higher levels of religious involvement are positively associated with indicators of psychological well-being (life satisfaction, happiness, positive affect, and higher morale) and with less depression, suicidal thoughts and behavior, drug/alcohol use/abuse."
The studies cited above test only correlation, as opposed to causation; they do not distinguish between various possible explanations. These include the following:
- The religious belief itself in fact promotes satisfaction and that non-belief does not promote satisfaction and/or promotes dissatisfaction
- Satisfaction and dissatisfaction contribute to religious belief and disbelief, respectively (i.e. satisfied persons may be more inclined to endorse the existence of a traditionally defined deity than dissatisfied people)
- confounding variables may well promote satisfaction rather than religion itself (see below)
Some researchers suggest there are happiness benefits to being in the majority when it comes to religious belief. Many studies finding correlations between happiness and religiosity come from measuring Religion in the United States - a predominantly Christian country (making the nonreligious a minority). According to a 2007 paper by Liesbeth Snoep, published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, there is no significant correlation between religiosity and individual happiness when researchers measure Religion in the Netherlands and Denmark. These countries have lower rates of religious affiliation than the United States, meaning the non-religious are not the vast minority - a fact that Snoep thinks might help explain the different correlations. This might suggest that religious people are happier because they are simply satisfying various other criteria for happiness. According to the Gallup World Poll survey conducted between 2005 and 2009 Denmark is the happiest country in the world, and the Netherlands rank fourth.
Terror management theory maintains that people suffer cognitive dissonance (anxiety) when they are reminded of their inevitable death. Through terror management, individuals are motivated to seek consonant elements – symbols which make sense of mortality and death in satisfactory ways (i.e. boosting self-esteem).
Research has found that strong belief in religious or secular meaning systems affords psychological security and hope. It is moderates (e.g. agnostics, slightly religious individuals) who likely suffer the most anxiety from their meaning systems. Religious meaning systems are especially adapted to manage death anxiety because they are unlikely to be disconfirmed (for various reasons), they are all encompassing, and they promise literal immortality.
Whether emotional effects are beneficial or adverse seems to vary with the nature of the belief. Belief in a benevolent God is associated with lower incidence of general anxiety, social anxiety, paranoia, obsession, and compulsion whereas belief in a punitive God is associated with greater symptoms. (An alternative explanation is that people seek out beliefs that fit their psychological and emotional states.)
Citizens of the world's poorest countries are the most likely to be religious, and researchers suggest this is because of religion's powerful coping abilities. Luke Galen also supports terror management theory as a partial explanation of the above findings. Galen describes evidence (including his own research) that the benefits of religion are due to strong convictions and membership in a social group.
- Psychology of religion
- Correlation and causation
- Religion and wealth
- Subjective well-being
- God is not great
- Routledge, Clay (2012), "Are Religious People Happier Than Non-religious People?", Psychology Today, retrieved 2014-01-24
- Tahor, Grundtvig (2011-04-01). "Praying for Dopamine". Lab Times. p. 12. Retrieved 2014-01-24. "Religious prayer is a form of frequently recurring behaviour capable of stimulating the dopaminergic reward system in practicing individuals"
- Clinical Implications of Research on Religion, Spirituality, and Mental Health. Marilyn Baetz & John Toews. La Revue canadienne de psychiatrie, vol 54, no 5, mai 2009
- Ellison, C.G. Religious involvement, social ties, and social support in a southeastern community. Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion1994;33:46–61.
- McCullough, M.E. & Larson, D.B. Religion and depression: a review of the literature. Twin Res. 1999;2:126–136.
- Strawbridge, W.J., Shema, S.J., Cohen, R.D., et al. Religious attendance increases survival by improving and maintaining good health behaviors, mental health, and social relationships. Ann Behav Med. 2001;23:68–74.
- Burris, C.T. Religious Orientation Scale. In: Hill, P.C. & Hood, R.W. Jr., editors. Measures of religiosity. Birmingham (AL): Religious Education Press; 1999. p 144–153.
- Paul, Pamela (2005-01-09). "The New Science of Happiness". Time.
- Koenig. Harold G., Larson, David B., and Mcculloug, Michael E. –Handbook of Religion and Health (see article), p.122, Oxford University Press (2001), ISBN 0-8133-6719-0
Feigelman et al. (1992) examined happiness in Americans who have given up religion. Using pooled data from the General Social Surveys conducted between 1972 and 1990, investigators identified more than 20,000 adults for their study. Subjects of particular interest were “disaffiliates”—those who were affiliated with a religion at age 16 but who were not affiliated at the time of the survey (disaffiliates comprised from 4.4% to 6.0% of respondents per year during the 18 years of surveys). “Actives” were defined as persons who reported a religious affiliation at age 16 and a religious affiliation at the time of the survey (these ranged from 84.7% to 79.5% of respondents per year between 1972 and 1990). Happiness was measured by a single question that assessed general happiness (very happy, pretty happy, not too happy). When disaffiliates (n = 1,420) were compared with actives (n = 21,052), 23.9% of disaffiliates indicated they were “very happy, ” as did 34.2% of actives. When the analysis was stratified by marital status, the likelihood of being very happy was about 25% lower (i.e., 10% difference) for married religious disaffiliates compared with married actives. Multiple regression analysis revealed that religious disaffiliation explained only 2% of the variance in overall happiness, after marital status and other covariates were controlled. Investigators concluded that there was little relationship between religious disaffiliation and unhappiness (quality rating 7)
- Koenig. Harold G., Larson, David B., and Mcculloug, Michael E. –Handbook of Religion and Health(see article), p.111, Oxford University Press (2001)
Currently, approximately 8% of the U.S. population claim no religious affiliation (Kosmin & Lachman, 1993). People with no affiliation appear to be at greater risk for depressive symptoms than those affiliated with a religion. In a sample of 850 medically ill men, Koenig, Cohen, Blazer, Pieper, et al. (1992) examined whether religious affiliation predicted depression after demographics, medical status, and a measure of religious coping were controlled. They found that, when relevant covariates were controlled, men who indicated that they had “no religious affiliation” had higher scores on the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (an observer-administered rating scale) than did men who identified themselves as moderate Protestants, Catholics, or nontraditional Christians.
- Smith, Timothy; Michael McCullough, and Justin Poll (2003). "Religiousness and Depression: Evidence for a Main Effect and Moderating Influence of Stressful Life Events". Psychological Bulletin 129 (4): 614–36. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.129.4.614. PMID 12848223.
- The 2008 Legatum Prosperity Index, Summary p.40.
Research suggests that religious people's happiness is less vulnerable to fluctuations in economic and political uncertainty, personal unemployment and income changes. The Prosperity Index identifies similar effects at the country level, with a number of highly religious countries reporting higher levels of happiness than might be expected based on the standard of living alone: this effect is most pronounced in Mexico, El Salvador, the Dominican republic, Indonesia, Venezuela and Nigeria.
- Is Religion Dangerous?p156, citing David Myers The Science of Subjective Well-Being Guilford Press 2007
- Is Religion Dangerous? cites similar results from theHandbook of Religion and Mental Health Harold Koenig (ed.) ISBN 978-0-12-417645-4
- Hackney, Charles H; Glenn S. Sanders (2003). "Religiosity and Mental Health: A Meta–Analysis of Recent Studies". Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 42 (1): 43–55. doi:10.1111/1468-5906.t01-1-00160.
- Moreira-Almeida, Alexander; Francisco Lotufo Neto, and Harold G. Koenig (September 2006). "Religiousness and mental health: a review". Rev. Bras. Psiquiatr. [serial on the Internet] 28 (3): 242–250. doi:10.1590/S1516-44462006005000006. PMID 16924349.
- Liesbeth Snoep,"Religiousness and happiness in three nations: a research note," Journal of Happiness Studies, February 6, 2007.
- Levy, Francesca (2010-07-14). "The World's Happiest Countries". Forbes.
- Terror Management Analysis of the Psychological Functions of Religion
- Reasonable Doubts Podcast Episode 81: Sacfificial Lambs
- Beliefs About God and Mental Health in American Adults; Nava R. Silton, Kevin J. Flannelly, Kathleen Galek, Christopher G. Ellison; Journal of Religion and Health; April 2013
- Religiosity Highest in World's Poorest Nations, Gallup Global Reports, August 31, 2010.
- Religion Provides Emotional Boost to World’s Poor, Gallup Global Reports, March 6, 2009.
- Luke Galen Center Stage Podcast, Episode 104 - Profiles of the Godless: Results from the Non-Religious Identification Survey.
- Personality and social integration factors distinguishing nonreligious from religious groups: The importance of controlling for attendance and demographics, 2011, Luke Galen and Jim Kloet, Archive for the Psychology of Religions
- Reasonable Doubts Podcast, Luke Galen, "Terror Management: How Our Worldviews Help Us Deny Death. "