Friday, March 25, 2011

Why Are Religious People Happier?

NOTCIE: the BBQ tomorrow is canceled since the weather forecast is getting worse and worse. Sorry peeps who were plannin ta go.

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.

And now the post.

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. As a stake president I can testify that religious people are happier because we are living according to divine plan of happiness.

    President Paternoster

  2. I'm grateful I checked your link first so I know who I'm dealing with.

    You're minor words of encouragement have no affect on me when I've just given examples of only two studies, which included 10s of thousands in their samples between the two of them, and where they both gave the result that there is no statistically significant difference between theists and atheists, and where church attendance has less affect than friends or health.

    Also, let me clarify, there can be a difference in the results, but unless it's statistically significant that means if you repeat the process in the exact same fashion and with comparable samples, the results could fluctuate, and often, resulting in one where theists are 2% above atheists and the next sample having atheists being 8% happier than theists.

    Regardless, I enjoy you're 14 fundamentals and I am glad you live up to the dogmatic and blind-sheep stereotype 'anti-mormons' put up for you.

  3. Carl Sagan said it best, "For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring"

    It doesn't matter if religion makes people happy. Being happy doesn't make it true.

  4. And for some ppl it just doesn't make them happy. And then for others not being in a religion makes them very happy.