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Religious Belief

Who is happier, a religious believer or a nonbeliever?

New analysis shows that it's not quite so simple. Luke Galen  has found that the convinced non-religious are also quite happy, but people who are uncertain are the ones who are dissatisfied. Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn, a social scientist at Harvard, has analyzed data from the World Values Survey and found some more interesting details.

Religion and Science

Uncertainity leads to dissatisfaction

Previous studies have tended to find that religious people are, on average, happier. But simple 'average' levels of happiness hide a lot of detail - convinced non-religious people are quite happy while those who are uncertain about their beliefs are dissatisfied with life.

Religious people are both happier and unhappier.

In other words, they tend to be found at either extremes of the happiness scale. A higher percentage of religious people say that they are extremely happy, compared with convinced atheists. But a higher percentage also say that they're extremely unhappy. Atheists are more likely to report being somewhere in-between.

Kumbha Mela 2009

Religious service-goers tend to be happier.

Teasing apart the data shows that people who go to religious services and belong to religious organisations are happier.

Non-believers tend to be happier.

In the same analysis, people who believe in god are much less happy. In other words, the happiest people are those who take part in the social side of religion but don't take all the religious doctrine and god  stuff too seriously.

The effect depends on how religious the country is.

The more religious on average the country is, the happier believers are. In countries that are not very religious, non-believers are happier than believers.

This suggests that the reason non-believers are generally found to be less happy is because the studies have usually been done in countries where they are the minority.

In other words, being among like-minded people makes you happier. Also, it might simply be that people who want to fit in are happier. In religious countries, these kinds of people are religious. In non-religious countries, they're non-religious.


Religion alleviates the effects of unemployment

This only applies in rich countries. Okulicz-Kozaryn showed that being unemployed makes you unhappy, and that this effect is stronger in rich countries compared with poor ones. Unemployed people who are religious are happier than the non-religious unemployed, but only in rich countries.

He speculates that there is greater social stigma to unemployment in rich countries, and that religion alleviates the misery that this causes.

Religions cause extremes

All this seems to confirm that the religions cause extremes - both high happiness but also high unhappiness. Plus, happiness is mostly linked to social activities. This study seems to explain why atheist countries, like Scandinavia, are amongst the happiest. Atheists are happy when among like-minded people, and the societies in which they predominate are also rich in the other factors that make people happy - freedom, justice, and equality.