Friday, December 6, 2013

Are Religious People Happier?



From guest blogger, Andrea.

I found this short article on Huffington Post about religion and happiness. The author analyses the claims “Religious people are happier people” and “Religion protects people from depression”. But a 2003 meta 
analysis doesn’t find a strong correlation between happy people and those belonging to a religion vs those that do not.

When comparing religious people of different countries, in the US it was found more religious people are slightly happier, and in the Netherlands and Denmark there was no association between religiousness and happiness. Why is that? A possible explanation is “Feeling part of the mainstream may be comforting whereas being in the minority is potentially stressful”

Another study in 2010 showed that the least religious countries were actually the happiest. The study found it was more because of government security and secure standard of living.
The principal source of European happiness is also the main reason for their unprecedented level of atheism. As detailed in an earlier post, when countries become more affluent, and their people acquire greater material security, their religious temperature nose dives.
What do you guys think about this? Or happiness and religion altogether? Should a religion focus on making followers happy and less stressed? If that’s the case then, is it a benefit or detriment for preachers to preach down from the pulpit about all the sin in the world, and death, and eternal suffering of unrepentant sinners and how God unleashes fury against the world, etc?

8 comments:

Caitlin Cooper said...

I personally think that some people need religion while others may not. You could relate it to liking certain sports or specific sports teams. Some people live and breath football and their lives would be totally different if it didn’t exist and others absolutely hate it and really don’t care who wins the Super Bowl. It’s really interesting that a statement such as “religious people are happier” seems like the topic is obviously about religion but when if you compare all these studies from different countries and different economic statuses you find that it really seems to be more of a sociological statement than a religious one. I think that the possible explanation that you give of people feeling included seems very likely to contribute to one’s happiness. This sounds a lot like the studies that examine what race people are and analyze that with where they live. These studies show basically the same results, they say that if someone is apart of the majority race they seem to be more relaxed.

Caitlin C said...

I personally think that some people need religion while others may not. You could relate it to liking certain sports or specific sports teams. Some people live and breath football and their lives would be totally different if it didn’t exist and others absolutely hate it and really don’t care who wins the Super Bowl. It’s really interesting that a statement such as “religious people are happier” seems like the topic is obviously about religion but when if you compare all these studies from different countries and different economic statuses you find that it really seems to be more of a sociological statement than a religious one. I think that the possible explanation that you give of people feeling included seems very likely to contribute to one’s happiness. This sounds a lot like the studies that examine what race people are and analyze that with where they live. These studies show basically the same results, they say that if someone is apart of the majority race they seem to be more relaxed.

Alexander Laird said...

I think the statistics presented in the article can be easily explained. The job of religion is to appease. Appeasement is far more important for those who live in poor countries than for those live in wealthy nations. When one feels that they lack control of their life, whether it is due to financial woes, tyrannical governments, disease, or anything else, religion delivers some of that control back. This sense of control stems from the feeling that they are actually connected to the man making all the decisions, God, and he is rooting for them. When a person is living uncomfortably due to sickness or substandard living conditions, religion helps them understand that their comfort and happiness is not important anyways, as what matters is that they can look forward to eternal comfort and happiness as soon as they die. When a person lacks education and can't explain why bad things are happening all around them or why they feel they are being taken advantage of, religion offers them a simple explanation for their concerns. Religion is an emotional toolbox for the oppressed. However, when a person has personal wealth and a sense of control over their life, religion is far less useful. Thus, the more poverty and unhappiness in a country, the more likely that country is to have a larger religious population.

Annalee Galston said...

I'm unsure as to whether or not religion has an obligation to make people happy or less stressed. My intuition says no. Maybe God does if the believer creates a positive relationship with God. To me, it seems that religion has the ability to make people both happy/ less stressed and stressed depending on how well the individual upholds the tenets of their religion and how well they are rewarded by God. The happiness that comes from religious belief may come from a necessity that religion fulfills. I imagine this through a sort of thought experiment. I imagine that during the agricultural revolution humans didn't necessarily have a lot of knowledge about what factors led to a successful harvest. Thus, they may have some belief that an entity controlled it and that a successful relationship with the entity is important to ensuring a successful harvest. Hence, ritual and prayer. This is just prediction on my part but I think it speaks to a basic need humans had and still do; the belief and/or guarantee that things are going to work out. Perhaps the reason that some religious people are happier than average people is because they believe that their relationship with religion/God will ensure that things are going to work out.

Natalie N said...

If we think back to the Dawkins article, he said that religion offers explanation, uplift, and consolation, while science can only offer explanation and uplift. He says that explanation and uplift are accomplished better by science because science is supported by empirical claims, meaning we can know that what is said is true, while religious claims lack this. Consolations can be found in religion, such as reuniting with lost loved ones in heaven at one point, but science cannot serve this purpose because these things are not something that empirical claims can be made about. He said that this doesn’t make religion better than science because the consoling claims are false. I think this correlates well to the article and your blog post. The better off countries do not need consolation so they are able to stray away from religion towards reason and remain happy. However, in countries in which the people are experiencing hardships, the religious people have things to console them, such as the belief that good and bad deeds will be rewarded and punished in the afterlife, which allows them to remain hopeful and happy. Those non-religious people in the same situation are not consoled by belief in an afterlife, divine providence, or faith. It seems like this would make it easy to resign to being hopeless. It would also be interesting to see what the affect of other factors, such as education level of the population, religious history of the state compared to the present, and the extent of state welfare/egalitarianism, affected this religion to happiness ratio. It would also be interesting to consider if religious people have higher expectations of their lives because of their faith and hope than non-religious people do. Could these religious people have reported lower levels of happiness because of these expectations, while in reality their standard of life is not lower. By this I mean, is it possible that a religious person would report a 5 out of 10 because of the hope for more that they have as a result of being religious, while a non-religious person with the same objective standard of living/utility as that religious person would report a 6 out of 10 because they don't expect as much. I think it's likely that a person who believes in an omnibenevolent God would have higher expectations of life than someone who doesn't.

Rashad said...

I feel that happiness is definitely correlated with religion in a positive way. From my studies in religion, I have noticed a common theme across all religions which are basically that there is suffering and hardship in the world. Almost all religions blame the self/human kind for this suffering and hardship. Thus, religious doctrine, practice, and faith serve as a form of optimism that gets people to not think pessimistically about reality.
It is not that religions intentionally focus on making people happy and less stressed, but that there is a focus on the principles of the world via the way that the world functions, and how to live a prosperous life in the here and now. There is also mention of a life after death in some religions. Whether one is happy and less stressed depends upon one’s interpretation of a religion. For instance, as a Christian, I sometimes face hardship, yet my faith and what I know and have learned is what makes me happy. According to scripture, “God will never give us more than we can handle;” therefore, reminded of this, “I see light at thee end of any dark tunnel.” I am sure that others would profess a similar idea and experience also
In another example, Buddhism’s central doctrine is the 4 Noble Truths. They state: There is suffering in the world, suffering is caused by ignorance, suffering has a cure, and the cure to suffering is the 8-Fold Path (consisting of Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration). Here, Buddhism blames ignorance on the bad/evil things that happen in the world and provides a solution to avoid these issues. Overall, a person can free him or herself. Thus, one has full control and ought to be happy because one knows the source of those issues and how to handle those issues.

Stoehr said...

How interesting! I think the idea that religion is associated with a sense of community definitely plays a role in the potential happiness associated with said religion. I just watched a video (http://elitedaily.com/news/world/this-video-will-have-you-completely-rethink-how-you-conduct-yourself-online-and-in-person-video/) about how we are becoming increasingly lonely due to our obsession with being social, in a sort of paradoxical way. The more we try to perpetuate this image of being an affluent, social human being, the less we are remaining intact with our true self, thus losing our sense of identity to a world of posed photos and exaggerated experiences.
Maybe it isnt because of the promise of eternal salvation, or the comfort of having a God to blame when bad things happen, but the social aspect of religion which brings about the happiness mentioned in the article you're speaking of. It seems like religion, by bringing people together over shared beliefs, could potentially contribute to our overall happiness.

David Harms said...

I feel like religion can make an individual subjectively happier. Take for example someone's passion for music. Although extremely different, some people find immersing themselves within music provides purpose and happiness. It seems that the principles are the same, for the concept is so abstract and what one takes out of religion or music is so varied, why can't you claim that religion makes an individual happier? Does it make all people happier? Well, if you don't believe in God or any religious deity, then probably not, I suppose.