Religions Effect On Happiness

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Religions effect on Happiness

Religion and happiness have been studied by a number of researchers. For example, the Handbook of Religion and Health describes a survey by Feigelman (1992) who 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. 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.

The studies cited above test only correlation, as opposed to causation; they do not distinguish between alternative causal explanations including the following:

that religious belief itself in fact promotes satisfaction and that non-belief does not promote satisfaction and/or promotes dissatisfaction;

that satisfaction and dissatisfaction contribute to religious belief and disbelief, respectively, i.e., that satisfied persons are more inclined to endorse the existence of a traditionally defined deity (whose attributes include omnibenevolence) than are dissatisfied persons, who may perceive their unhappiness as evidence that no deity exists (as in atheism) or that whatever deity exists is less than omnibenevolent (as in deism); and

that although religious belief does not itself promote satisfaction, satisfaction is influenced by a third factor that correlates significantly with religious belief, e.g., a) divine providence as bestowed by a deity who shows favor to believers and/or disfavor to nonbelievers or b) sociopolitical ostracism of self-declared nonbelievers and/or fear of such ostracism by "closeted" nonbelievers.

Many people expect religion to bring them happiness. Does this actually seem to be the case? Are religious people happier than nonreligious people? And if so, why might this be?

Researchers have been intrigued by such questions. Most studies have simply asked people how happy they are, although studies also may use scales that try to measure happiness more subtly than that. In general, researchers who have a large sample of people in their study tend to limit their measurement of happiness to just one or two questions, and researchers who have fewer numbers of people use several items or scales to measure happiness.

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