Religion and Happiness




Religion has a profound effect on happiness. Multiple studies have shown that religious believers are generally happier people, an effect that is more pronounced in poorer countries. The reasons are: 1. the hierarchical structure of the church; 2. the belief in divine justice and an ordered moral universe; 3. help and companionship available within the community of believers; and 4. the unique hierarchy of merit within church congregations.

This is part of a series of posts on happiness. Find the whole series here.

The importance of religions on Earth

Does God make people happy? Are religious people more satisfied with their lives than those who don’t believe in God? And are religious countries happier than more secular ones?

Out of 7 people on Earth today, 6 belong to some kind of religious community. Earth’s population currently is about 7 billion, of which (according to Wikipedia
) 2.2 billion are Christians, 1.6 billion Muslims, 1 billion Hindus, 400 million Chinese traditional religion adherents, 375 million Buddhists, and another 500 million are distributed among various smaller religions. This leaves only about 1 billion people who don’t believe in some kind of God. So when we talk about happiness, we cannot ignore religion, since it is an important part of the lives of the majority of humans on Earth.

Out of 7 people on Earth today, 6 belong to some kind of religious community. 

For our purposes here, it doesn’t matter what religion we are talking about. The effects of religion on happiness are clear enough and similar for most world religions. For examples, I will use Christianity, since this is the religion the readers of this page will probably be most familiar with; but similar principles apply to other religions.

Differences between religious and secular attitudes

But what distinguishes a religious life from a secular one in practice? How is the life and the world-view of a practising Christian different from that of a non-believer? A few obvious points come to mind:

Believers are expected to follow God’s commands.
After death, ‘good’ believers will enjoy a desirable afterlife, while ‘bad’ people (or unbelievers) will be punished.
Believers attend church on Sundays.
The Bible provides a basic framework of morality (Ten Commandments, Sermon of the Mount).
One important part of this framework, particularly for Christians, is to love one’s enemies, and to be nice and helpful to everyone, especially those who need help.

Although we use examples from Christian practices, it is important to see that these points can be made in similar ways about other religions.

Most religions provide ethical frameworks that command or discourage particular behaviours (points 1 and 4 above).
Most religions include belief in an afterlife that, in some form, will reward ‘good’ and punish ‘bad’ behaviour (2).
All religions provide some kind of visible ritual, be it …
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