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Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Are religious people happier? Why yes, yes they are.

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Aug 19, 2015

I have not read the whole study, but the news is good: Those who participate in religious organizations are happier than those who do not, even if they are active in other political or social organizations. Our story links to the website with the full text. Many might find this surprising, especially in today’s dominant secular culture, but it all stands to reason.

I’m not sure what religious affiliations were involved, but the vast majority of religious institutions provide increased exposure to grace, a greater certainty about our future, a clear sense of purpose, and considerable personal support. In the context of this study of depressive symptoms and what activities increase or lessen them, it would seem clear that we would be happier in the knowledge that God loves us and wants us to spend eternity with Him, especially when this knowledge and conviction comes in a context of mutual care and support.

If we compare this with the “freedom” of being adrift in a meaningless universe with no ultimate future, and a corresponding emphasis on getting what we want now at any cost, it is not hard to see that the latter is as conducive to anxiety as the former is conducive to peace. Even if this were just wishful thinking, the result would be obvious. But on the conviction (for which there is considerable evidence) that God is quite real—a loving Father who constantly helps us on our way by sharing His life with us—the case becomes far stronger. With God’s help, people reorder their lives to noble yet realistic ends even as He heals and fills them with His sustaining Presence.

If we focus for a moment on the direct relationship between our desires and our anxieties, it is noteworthy that religion typically both guides and enables us to transform unrealistic, selfish, petty and ultimately futile desires into desires for noble and permanent things which are also very much within our grasp. There is a powerful psychological element here, which again can be significantly transformed not only through personal effort but by grace. Adjusting our desires is essential to avoiding frustration and focusing on what is truly important, what is of ultimate value.

Most religions encourage their adherents to do this. It is quite valuable as a human exercise, but immensely more fruitful with the help of God. And you will not get this from our contemporary “advertising culture”, which produces exactly the opposite results.

As philosophers have known for centuries, we are capable of seeking happiness on a number of levels, but the higher levels produce deeper and longer-lasting results—the altruistic levels, and especially the spiritual level. Indeed, apart from religion, we are primarily concerned with happiness at the lower levels of our nature. Such aspects of happiness—by no means negligible in themselves—are nonetheless typically less important, less integrative, and more fleeting.

The vast majority of religions share at least some of the elements which lead to the deepest and fullest happiness. Christianity (and Catholicism in particular) encompasses them all.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Bernadette - Aug. 30, 2016 5:01 PM ET USA

    The reason we don't hear about it from the bishops is mainly two-fold: 1. Lack of faith. Many simply don't believe and are "in it" for the power/prestige, loving their authority "to lord it over all." 2. Fear. of losing priests, parishes, popularity, people leaving, empty churches, empty pews, all of which is also part of loss of faith or never having had faith in the first place.

  • Posted by: VICTORIA01 - Aug. 17, 2016 5:08 AM ET USA

    The bishops in my little corner of Australia presided over the implosion of authentic Catholic teaching in the Faith and I could count on the fingers of both hands the Faithful priests in my capital city. Nothing appears to be changing except of course the number of people coming to Mass is declining as the ones who used to come die.

  • Posted by: fenton1015153 - Aug. 15, 2016 8:59 AM ET USA

    The Bishops have always leaned toward social governmental programs than addressing the problem of poverty themselves. This has made them trust more in man than in God. So their collective problem is whom they serve. As we have all been told, "You cannot serve both God and Mammon."

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Aug. 14, 2016 8:03 PM ET USA

    I became aware of this problem when I was finally old enough to pay attention, i.e., in my late 20s. First there was the auxiliary bishop of Detroit who declared that he would match Reagan dollar for dollar in his support for the communists in Nicaragua. Then there was the prelate of Seattle, the prelate of Chicago, the prelate of Milwaukee, only to name a few. All opposed to right reason in matters of discipline, prudence, and even faith. The laity were the only ones standing against them.

  • Posted by: wcbeckman51 - Aug. 14, 2016 10:11 AM ET USA

    Clericalism is corruption, and it is epidemic.

  • Posted by: rmdkbo8284 - Aug. 13, 2016 1:12 PM ET USA

    Not to ignore the clergy abuse problem in the Church, but has anyone been as forthright on sexual abuse in society as a whole? The problem isn't just in the Church. Sad to say, but the Church may be the least of our problems as a culture. Abuse, porn, rape. As two comic radio personalities used to say "It's every wherewhere, it's everywhere!" Recalling St. Faustina's vision of hell, the vision is frightening.

  • Posted by: rmdkbo8284 - Aug. 13, 2016 12:58 PM ET USA

    Your article, Phil, engaged me so much that I actually signed up for "Catholic Culture" (donated!) so I could enter into the dialogue. To the point: Corrupt clergy, no (some maybe). Dumb, culpable ignorance, they don't get it? Yes. What I find maddening is that you don't really give an answer. So what are your recommendations other than to say, with Bishop Sheen, the layity are at the heart of the solution. Can't you be more specific than that.