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