Religion and Happiness

Laughing Buddha

Religion and happiness have been studied by a number of researchers. The science of positive psychology has identified many components of happiness, and religion seems adapted to satisfy many of them. Some research suggests that both non-religious and religious meaning systems can be quite effective when it comes to managing death anxiety, and that the latter have a few additional advantages. There is extensive research suggesting that religious people are happier and less stressed.

There are a number of mechanisms through which religion may make a person happier, including social contact and support that result from religious pursuits, the mental activity that comes with optimism and volunteering, learned coping strategies that enhance one’s ability to deal with stress, and psychological factors such as ‘reason for being.’ It may also be that religious people engage in behaviors related to good health, such as less substance abuse) since the use of psychotropic substances is sometimes considered abuse. On the other hand, Rastafarians and others use cannabis as a religious sacrament.

Terror management theory maintains that people suffer cognitive dissonance (anxiety) when they are reminded of their inevitable death. Through terror management, individuals are motivated to seek consonant elements – symbols which make sense of mortality and death in satisfactory ways (i.e. boosting self-esteem). Research has found that strong belief in religious or secular meaning systems affords psychological security and hope. It is moderates (e.g. agnostics, slightly religious individuals) who likely suffer the most anxiety from their meaning systems. Religious meaning systems are especially adapted to manage death anxiety because they are unlikely to be disconfirmed (for various reasons), they are all encompassing, and they promise literal immortality. Citizens of the world’s poorest countries are the most likely to be religious, and researchers suggest this is because of religion’s powerful coping abilities.

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