Thursday, March 24, 2011

Are Religious People More Happy or Not?

This is a guest post I am doing for the Atheists of Utah Valley. Most likely I will put some extra work into a post about every week and then post it on my blog and their's. I wish to put forth that the credit for the AoUV blog lies with ‘Horus’ who also happens to be the one who has kept the FB group going. Cheers.

This post deals with this article: “Why are religious people happier?” Now, the podcast “Reasonable Doubts” approached this question in their “Profiles of the Godless” episode which I highly recommend to everyone; it was a very good presentation. Following the link to this article it becomes clear right away that social bonding seems to give more quality to life, as proven by other studies and in other podcasts than Reasonable Doubts.

It does not take too much critical thinking to look at this study and see that the correlations may not be a line up between A and B (the believer and their beliefs) but rather A and C (the believer and their fellow believers). This study claims that “forging close bonds with people over mutually shared and meaningful interests might boost quality of life for anyone, religious or not.” The article continues to say that a church offers a special type of community that other groups have a hard time being able to compare to.

Friendships and support do help people to help others more. It seems that religious groups may still have a upper hand on secular groups, but the difference has been found to be minimal in several studies, at least not statistically significant. But this is beginning to wander off topic.

Getting back to the article, the question comes up whether church makes people happy or whether happy people go to church? Certainly if people are not happy they most likely won’t go to church, or if they feel guilty due to doubts they probably also won’t be going to church that regularly. Often happy people will go to the places that at least ‘should’ make them happy.

The study had a large sample, and reports to having a large questionnaire. It is interesting to note that the study reported that personal health had more influence on their happiness than church attendance making the top two areas that promote happiness (at least in this study) health and community. So far it could be twisted to say that their beliefs had major influence but this is where the article moves on to the pertinent point I am looking for.

"People who say they go to church every week but say they have no close friends there are not any happier than people who never go to church.” Now, to help make sense of this when you have two different points of interest in a statistical survey and there is no difference between two points you can say that the correlation is extremely high. Correlation does not mean causation, but high correlation means there is a strong relation between the two, even if inversely.

The article ends with the prospective comment that ‘trust’ and a sense of ‘belonging’ may be what people look for in a community, and in that community people will generally feel more happiness and rewarded from those relationships. This won’t be true for all people, but it is true of the general population, and we all shouldn’t think we’re so unique as to not be in that general population.


Point is; religious people are not happier than non-religious people in any significant way. Many sample studies show that religious people who attend church will be slightly higher on the scale, but not in all cases. This study shows that the cause does not seem to be beliefs, but rather community, and atheists do not have the same type of community. Obviously community of some kind has a major affect on how you view life, and, in general, the number of friendships you have also has an effect.

This post, without any forethought, can probably be looked at in two specific ways – as a call to anyone who may wish to meet more like-minded people who you can talk openly with, especially if you are surrounded by friends who you no longer agree with or consistently have to bite your tongue while around. Second, it should point out that you should be careful how you approach psychological and social studies. They are full of generalizations that may only apply to you in differing levels of influence than the next person. Also that results can be twisted to mean other things, especially when you say A causes B without considering that C may in fact cause both.


  1. Thanks for your post. I particularly like your 'call' for non-believers to meet up with like-minded people. Given the strong correlation between community and happiness, I suspect that religions will continue to have a dominant grip on society to the extent that they remain the only (or primary) means by which people can enter into some kind of 'coherent' or established community life. We need to offer alternatives.

    BTW, if you're interested in a few other grounds for skepticism about the so-called 'findings' that Christians are 'happier' than atheists, you might be interested in this post:

    Best wishes,
    Sola Ratione

  2. I agree with your post for the most part. I think it's possible non-believers also would lie, but they have much less reason too. I for one am much happier now than I have been for years.

    Second, I'll have to post it at some point, but religion is actually dying in some countries. I think community matters for sure, but I think people will find ways to replace church with other groups and communities.