A strong correlation exists between religiosity and personal happiness, according to a new study by the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture.
The study found that people who attend religious services on a weekly basis are nearly twice as likely to describe themselves as “very happy” (45%) than people who never attend (28%). Conversely, those who never worship are twice as likely to say they are “very unhappy” (4%) as those who attend services weekly (2%).
Building on prior research, this broad survey of American adults comprised a representative sample of 15,738 Americans between the ages of 18 and 60.
The study indicated that not only religious service attendance, but self-reported “religiosity” and religious “affiliation” are also linked with happiness levels. Yet of the three indicators, service attendance has the highest correlation to increased happiness. The study showed that higher levels of church attendance “predict higher life satisfaction,” even after accounting for how important religious faith is in people’s lives.
The correlation between religiosity and happiness is clear, but explanations of the connection and possible causal relationship are less clear. One theory suggests that the social support that religious communities can provide may be a key factor contributing to increased happiness, since “religious Americans are more apt to be involved in their communities.” Yet even here, the study found “that those who attend religious services often are happier than their peers with similar levels of involvement in the community.”
These statistics tying happiness to religiosity have held true over time. A similar survey conducted ten years ago generated similar results, leading to the same conclusions. When the General Social Survey asked a sample of Americans in 2004, “Would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?” religious people were more than twice as likely as the non-religious to say they were “very happy” (43%-21%). The secular people, or those who never attend worship services, were overwhelmingly more likely to say they were not too happy (21%-8%).
One could almost predict that many of those celebrating Christmas will be merry, those observing Hanukkah will be happy, but those only recognizing the “holidays” will have a little less cause for rejoicing.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.