“People who believe in God are happier.”

February 16th, 2012 in Life. Tags: , , , , ,

SmileWe have known for years that, contrary to what our culture and advertising tell us, money and possessions do not make people happy (unless they are very poor), and real happiness and satisfaction in life come from good, loving relationships, meaningful work (voluntary is even better than paid) and living for a cause greater than oneself.

And the confirmation keeps on coming.

The Religion & Society Research Program in the UK has studied many aspects of religion and society, including, in a 2008-2011 study, happiness. The study was based on economist Richard Lanyard’s seven key indicators of well-being: secure family relationships, income, meaning and relationships in work, community and friendship networks, health, personal freedom, and personal values and philosophy of life, and looked at the contribution that religious belief makes to these factors.

The study found three areas in particular were important:

  • Social support – religious belief has been found to be helpful in maintaining marriages, in the wellbeing of children, and in rehabilitating criminals, because of the strong support religious communities can provide.
  • Social psychology – religious belief and spirituality tend to have a positive effect on mental health and happiness of individuals, groups and societies.
  • Economics – religious belief often leads to reducing social and economic inequality, which in turn increases health and life expectancy.

Lanyard concludes:

People who believe in God are happier.

It’s nice to know. Read more at Religion Adds Value to the Happiness Hypothesis, Faith and wellbeing and What makes people happy?

9 Comments

  1. I thought I would read and mon this post as it seems to partner your post on neuroplasticity.

    Economics – religious belief often leads to reducing social and economic inequality, which in turn increases health and life expectancy.

    I get the impression that this was a very selective study and quite possibly based on a narrow band of Christianity, though I have to be honest and state I did not investigate the survey further. Maybe you could clarify?

    However, if one considers such polarized societies as are prevalent throughtout the Middle East for instance and the war in Bosnia/Herzegovina most have religion as part and parcel of conflict.

    http://www.religioustolerance.org/curr_war.htm
    <blockquote”Once started religious strife has a tendency to go on and on, to become permanent feuds. Today we see such intractable inter-religious wars in Northern Ireland, between Jews and Muslims and Christians in Palestine, Hindus and Muslims in South Asia and in many other places. Attempts to bring about peace have failed again and again. Always the extremist elements invoking past injustices, imagined or real, will succeed in torpedoing the peace efforts and bringing about another bout of hostility.” Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Prime Minister of Malaysia, addressing the World Evangelical Fellowship on 2001-MAY-4. 4

    Thoughts?

  2. I get the impression that this was a very selective study and quite possibly based on a narrow band of Christianity, though I have to be honest and state I did not investigate the survey further. Maybe you could clarify?

    The study used input from a number of diverse countries around the world, so I can’t see any reason to think this.

    if one considers such polarized societies as are prevalent throughtout the Middle East for instance and the war in Bosnia/Herzegovina most have religion as part and parcel of conflict.

    I wouldn’t take much notice of the Religious Tolerance site – it is a fancy name for a very few people without significant academic qualifications and who base their views on personal views rather than proper studies. I have looked at a genuine and thorough academic study (Does religion cause wars? and found that religion isn’t a major cause in most wars, though it can be a supportive factor. Most wars are apparently about territory or perceived injustices (as your quote illustrates).

    I think some studies show that religious belief can foster division of people into “in” and “out” groups, and this can help make war more “palatable”, but religion has often played a part in opposing wars and promoting harmony as well. I don’t know how those two factors balance out.

  3. I think some studies show that religious belief can foster division of people into “in” and “out” groups, and this can help make war more “palatable”, but religion has often played a part in opposing wars and promoting harmony as well. I don’t know how those two factors balance out.

    Again, I return to the initial quote:
    ”Economics – religious belief often leads to reducing social and economic inequality, which in turn increases health and life expectancy.”

    I am reminded of the businessman asking his accountant what did his books say, to which the accountant responded:”What would you like them to say?”
    Statistics. And in what environment are they applied?
    One can hardly deny that religion is not intrinsically linked with hostilities in the Middle East, and this would be true of Northern Ireland as well, irrespective whether any credence should be afforded the Religious Tolerance site.
    Granted, political conniving is enmeshed and I am willing to concede that in a stable environment the beneficial economic assertion could ring true but to suggest the Jews and the Arabs, for example, are not divided because of religion is preposterous.
    You aren’t saying this are you?

    If one considers that the two major religions, Islam and Christianity both believe in proselytizing and expansion with the aim/hope of eventually establishing one religion I cannot honestly see how in the long run tolerance will prevail, and nobody is suggesting a line be drawn that both sides agree they will not cross.
    Let’s remember what the objective is of many believers of Islam towards Israel?

    History would also suggest that much religious conflict decimated populations and thus ruined economies, especially during the Middle Ages – and this was between rival Christian factions!

    And even now, one hasto factor religion into the civil war in Syria. Not to do so would be the height of irresponsibility.

    In fact religions flourish more in a secular society, ironically, and where a single religion gets the upper hand to the detriment of secularism this often leads to suppression and oppression.

  4. Hi. Did you check out the Bradford Peace Studies reference? That will answer many of your questions, and demonstrate that many of the conflicts you might name as religious are found using careful criteria to be not primarily religious. e.g. Arab-Israeli wars score 2 out of 5, a higher religion score than most, but still not the majority cause (as can be seen by the fact that most Jews are secular these days).

    I think it’s a matter of whether one goes by the evidence or follows first (and likely highly personal) impressions. And of course this all isn’t highly relevant to the topic of the post (not that I mind discussing it).

  5. Yes, I checked the links. And yes I agree that these days, religion among Jews especially will play a secondary role.
    Yet, I think you missed that I mentioned how religion was intrinsically linked with these conflicts. It would be a little disingenuous to say that it didn’t play some part.
    And they all began because of religious differences and other matters have crept in as nations such as the Israelis have become more secular.
    I would still point to the current situation in Syria. Religion is definitely part of this conflict.
    If one considers all this it does not seem to make sense of the statement pertaining to Economics and religion.

    Some of the most stable economies, Sweden spring to mind, is one of the least religious compared to a country like the USA which is probably the most religious Westernised country in the world and is not what anyone could consider a bastion of social and economic equality.
    And certain countries in South America that are also highly religious are in the same boat.
    I found these links which seem to support this.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Importance_of_religion_by_country
    http://www.salon.com/2012/08/29/eight_of_the_best_countries_to_be_an_atheist/
    http://www.therichest.com/location/top-10-countries-with-the-least-religious-people/

    Also found the pdf concerned with your survey:
    http://www.religionandsociety.org.uk/uploads/docs/2011_04/1303317352_Graham_Phase_1_Network_Block.pdf

    I was unable to ascertain which countries were used in the survey even though it listed which countries the representatives were from.

    From Chester University which made me smile. My old home town.

    Well, seems there are always two sides to every situation.

    Worldwide figures indicate that non-belief /atheism is ranked third behind Christianity and Islam and shows every sign that earth’s population will continue to move in this direction.

    Interesting.

  6. It would be a little disingenuous to say that it didn’t play some part.

    I agree, and said as much. The evidence is that “religion isn’t a major cause in most wars, though it can be a supportive factor”.

    Sweden spring to mind, is one of the least religious compared to a country like the USA which is probably the most religious Westernised country in the world and is not what anyone could consider a bastion of social and economic equality.

    There are indeed studies and datasets that show the correlation you mention here, but unless they take out the effects of other factors, who can say whether it is religion, genetics, gun ownership, or one of many other cultural differences that is the main cause?

    The studies I have mentioned try to take out the effects of other factors.

    I was unable to ascertain which countries were used in the survey even though it listed which countries the representatives were from.

    I assumed they each brought information from their own research in their own countries, but perhaps that wasn’t so.

  7. “religion isn’t a major cause in most wars, though it can be a supportive factor”

    This appears to somewhat fudging data as it does not include all wars and as far as I could gather the study focused on wars during the past 100 years.
    If we are going to dispute the nature or reasons behind such wars then how do we to view the intent of someone like Constantine and the battle of Milvian Bridge?
    Many would consider Constantine the ultimate Christian Fraud yet without him and his ilk where would Christianity likely be today?
    Likewise, what must we say about Theodosius?

    How then , should we view the Crusades or the initial Islamic expansion throughout North Africa and Southern Europe?

    If we consider none of these were based primarily on religious motivation then how are we to view those who instigated such wars?
    Despots? Tyrants or simple murderers?

    History clearly suggests the ancient wars of expansionism of Christianity and Islam were all because of religion, of this there can be little if any dispute.

    And the persecutions that raged across Europe, first by Catholics and then by Protestants were clearly about religion/doctrinal interpretation.
    Uness one ignores the theology and merely claims it was political ideology right from the start? And then where does this leave religion and belief in God?

    There are indeed studies and datasets that show the correlation you mention here, but unless they take out the effects of other factors, who can say whether it is religion, genetics, gun ownership, or one of many other cultural differences that is the main cause?

    Then likewise how can the study claim that god belief is a prime factor to mental well being?
    What would a malnourished child in Somalia benefit from most, knowledge of God or food?

    How does this study take into account certain tribes living in the South American rainforest that are largely unaffected by Christianity or any Abrahamic religion
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dg84mFeIsLQ
    Based on such criteria that is apparently absent from this study would you not consider this study might be too narrowly focussed
    and thus the results could be biased, albeit unintentionally?

  8. This appears to somewhat fudging data as it does not include all wars and as far as I could gather the study focused on wars during the past 100 years.

    The Bradford study analysed 73 wars over 3 millennia, 32 in the last century. The results for the last century, and overall, were fairly similar. They set out their criteria and scoring quite clearly. And Matthew White’s assessment leads to similar results. The analysis seems clear to me.

    Based on such criteria that is apparently absent from this study would you not consider this study might be too narrowly focussed and thus the results could be biased, albeit unintentionally?

    The conclusions are based on a sample of people from several countries, which they believe is enough to generalise. Doubtless there are exceptions and anomalies. But the questions you ask about Somalis and South America don’t seem to me to be relevant. Religious belief and practice seems to make people happier than people in similar situations without that belief, and the suffering of a starving child, awful though it is, doesn’t seem to me to have any bearing on that finding.

    The point of studies like these is to inform us, sometimes contrary to our intuitions. Why not accept that some of your intuitions are apparently mistaken?

  9. Why not accept that some of your intuitions are apparently mistaken?

    Maybe some are.
    But I express doubt primarily because religion has always appeared to have an agenda and unfortunately as there is so much polarisation even among religious adherents of the same faith it tends to blunt the senses to any potential positive. benefits.
    One wonders at the ulterior motives of any organisation that would need to sponsor research to demonstrate why God belief is beneficial, especially in light of the general evidence that is all around us. Surely one shouldn’t need a survey to identify why religion and God belief are beneficial? Shouldn’t these things be self evident? Obviously they’re not.
    Furthermore, it would be difficult to see how such a survey would encourage people back to the church or religion in general. It’s not like demonstrating the benefits of a particular brand of washing powder.
    One only has to think of 9/11 and the vile abuses of the Catholic Church to immediately dispel any feelings of endearment towards religion.
    Extreme religious organisations such as the Creationist movement and fundamental evangelist sects including offshoots such as ACE are insidiously impacting on education at primary school level and beyond in countries such as the States, England, South Africa and Australia. And this should be cause for serious concern.
    Read any blog site of anyone who has left fundamental christianity and one is immediately struck with a feeling of horror at what many of these people suffered as they grew up.

    The doctrines of Original Sin and Hell, which are still taught as mandated truth to millions don’t encourage any feelings of goodwill toward religion or God belief either.
    While the objectives of such belief might seem benign the reality is noticeably different, irrespective of what such a survey might wish to convey.
    That non-belief now accounts for the third highest number of human beings behind Christianity and Islam and is increasing all the time indicates that the former trust and belief people had in religion is now very much a thing of the past.
    This is why I believe that most of my intuitions in this regard are likely to be more right than wrong, and we are surrounded by simple physical evidence, past and present, to confirm this.

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