Those involved in religious congregations may simply be happier because they benefit from the social connections they’ve built.
A recent study by Pew Research Centre, a nonpartisan fact tank, has revealed that people who follow a religion through active participation in congregations are typically happier and more “civically engaged”.
The study compared the lives of religious people and non-religious people by analysing survey data from more than two dozen countries including the United States, Mexico, and Australia.
According to the results, religiously active people are typically happier and more “civically engaged” – meaning they are more likely to do things such as vote in elections or join community groups – than adults who either do not practise a religion or do not actively participate in one.
Additionally, the study also found that involvement in religious congregations coincides with some healthier lifestyle choices, with religious people reportedly smoking and drinking less than those without a faith.
However, the health benefits do not extend to other areas of life, as the study found that religious people are not healthier “in terms of exercise frequency and rates of obesity”, nor were they in better self-reported overall health.
To understand the link between religion and happiness, researchers categorised people into three categories – “actively religious”, or those who attend at least religious services at least once a month, “inactively religious”, people who identify as a religion but attend less often, and “religiously unaffiliated”, people who do not identify with a religion.
The study mostly relied on survey data from Christian-majority countries as the religion prompts the most involvement in religious services. However, data from some African and Asian countries and territories was also analysed.
Researchers found that more than one-third of actively religious adults in the US describe themselves as very happy and in 12 of the countries analysed, those active in religious congregations were found to be happier by “a statistically significant margin” than those who are unaffiliated with a religion.
In roughly nine countries analysed, involved religious people reported happiness higher than inactively religious adults.
In none of the countries did those who actively participate in religion report significantly less happiness than non-religious people, however, there were some countries where religious involvement correlated with little difference in happiness.
While “striking”, the link between happiness and religion requires further study – as “the numbers do not prove that going to religious services is directly responsible for improving people’s lives,” according to researchers.
Rather, the opposite could be true – that happier people engage in religious participation because they overall participate more in activities compared to unhappy people – as the surveys showed that many active religious people also reported voluntary involvement in other organisations.
Or, those involved in religious congregations may simply be happier because they benefit from the social connections they’ve built.
The study, which focused on surveys conducted since 2010 by Pew Research Centre, the World Values Survey Association, and the International Social Survey Program.