“Happiness is neither within us only, nor without us; it is the union of ourselves with God.”- Blaise Pascal
“When a man is freed of religion, he has a better chance to live a normal and wholesome life.”- Sigmund Freud
Are religious people happier than atheists? Freud, as you read in the quote above, did not believe so. He wasn’t a big fan of religion, seeing it as a neurosis, creating guilt and suppressing sexuality. However, Freud was also not a big fan of putting his ideas to the test. Luckily though, other people are, and now that happiness can be reliably measured, we can finally put this idea to the test.
The research, it turns out, actually contradicts what Freud believed – there does indeed appear to be a link between religion and happiness. Several studies have been done, but to give an example, one study found that the more frequently people attended religious events, the happier they were; 47% of people who attended several types a week reported that they were ‘very happy’, as opposed to 28% who attended less than monthly.
In practical terms, religious people have the upper hand on atheists in several other areas. They drink and smoke less, are less likely to abuse drugs, and they stay married longer. After a stressful even like bereavement, unemployment, or illness, those who worship don’t take it as hard and recover faster. All of the above are likely to be beneficial to a person’s happiness. Additionally, religious people, as a result of their beliefs, have a greater sense of meaning, purpose and hope in their lives.
Could this be divine intervention? Alas, these studies can’t inform us as to whether there is a God, only that people who believe in one tend to be happier. There are variables that need to be controlled for – religious people have communities that provide social support, and a belief system that provides structure to their lives and may alleviate some fears to a degree, such as the fear of death. So all we know for sure is that religious people tend to be happier than non-religious people.
Come on, you didn’t expect all the answers, did you?
Myers, D. G. (2000). Funds, Friends and Faith of Happy People. American Psychologist. 55(1), 56-67.