A new survey from the Pew Research Center has revealed a powerful connection between religion and happiness. Based on data from the United States and more than two dozen other countries, the researchers found that adults who are actively involved in church are happier and more civically engaged than adults who are religiously unaffiliated or inactive.
The researchers set out to determine whether religion had a positive or negative impact on eight different indicators of individual well-being, including two measures of civic engagement, self-reported levels of happiness, and five measures of individual health.
Religious participation was broken down into three categories: actively religious, inactively religious, and religiously unaffiliated.
In the United States, 36 percent of actively religious adults described themselves as being “very happy,” compared to just 25 percent of both inactive and unaffiliated individuals. In Australia, 45 percent of adults who were active participants in church reported being very happy, compared to only 33 percent of unaffiliated adults.
The researchers noted that “there is no country in which the data show that actives are significantly less happy than others (though in many countries, there is not much of a difference between the actives and everyone else).”
Although the study showed that religiously active individuals typically smoke and drink less, this group was not found to be significantly healthier in terms of obesity or physical activity. The findings add to a growing collection of studies which suggest religious participation has a positive effect on overall life satisfaction.
While religious activity seems to be connected with higher levels of happiness, the underlying cause or connection remains unclear. Previous research suggests that the social connections that come along with attending church may contribute to happiness. Another theory is that religious activity is associated with greater well-being simply because happier, healthier individuals are more inclined to join religious groups.
The full report from the Pew Research Center can be found here.