Are Religious People Happier?

This image displays regions of the brain and begs the question of how religion bares its influence on those regions. The Social Psychology of Radical Martyrdom Culture. Web. 02 Apr. 2014.


Each country has its own unique customs and practices shared among groups of individuals that comprise its populace. Although these cultures may be widely different it is true for all, if not most of them, that religion remains a dominant influence within each social group. Religion transcends race and gender and can either unite or separate individuals with a force that rivals no other on earth. It is no wonder why the question arises if people are truly happier because they are religious. We have focused on this question and have researched in areas that include the effect of religion in specific regions of the world and how different religions impact an individual. While gathering our research, we came to the conclusion that religious people are happier than non religious people. We focused on prayer and lifestyle, and how religious people cope with life's disparities vs. how no religious people cope with life's disparities. Religious people have faith in everything that happens to them which keeps them open-minded and optimistic, where non religious people have this "go-with-the-flow" kind of lifestyle where they just hope for the best. Mental health is very important as well, praying and attending church is known to have a positive impact on one's mental health.


Francis Scale of Attitude toward Christianity: comprises a 24 question self test that focuses on aspects of the Christian religion including the Bible, prayer and church. The questions are rated on a five point scale with 5 being “strongly agree” and having the opposite response scored as 1 (Lewis, C.A., Cruise, S.M., 2006).

Religious Influences in Various Countries and Cultures

A religion’s influence is ever present among individuals whether it is apparent or not. How it is effects a population of individual’s happiness is the focus of the following section. The research collected comprises regions of the world that account for a majority of the world’s population and include various religions that are recognized as the largest practiced by human beings.

China is currently the most populated country in the world and witnesses an abundance of various religions being practiced within its borders including but not limited to Buddhism, Taoism and Catholicism (Dueck, A., Han, B., 2012). A majority of the population are Buddhists or Taoists (66%) while a smaller portion recognize themselves as Christians (24%), where the rest of the population comprises many other religious backgrounds (Dueck, A., Han, B., 2012). An important value relating to our topic to note is that almost three quarter of the population who practice religion are happy to do so, meaning they feel no outside pressures or influence to worship a deity and almost 30% attribute religion to revealing the true way to live one’s life, while allowing for life to continue peacefully (Dueck, A., Han, B., 2012). These beliefs are instrumental to the topic at hand as they expose how much emphasis the people of China place towards religion and how deep of an impact it has on their lives. The influence of religion on China’s population may be caused by the adaptation of religion at a younger age, which is becoming progressively apparent over the past decade (Dueck, A., Han, B., 2012). The cumulative intensity of the religious influence in China is creating a generation of individuals who are becoming more devoted to deities and a result; they are also increasing their happiness. Psychology and its interest in religion is a relatively new concept in China when compared to other parts of the world. James M. Nelson suggests that scholars interested in the effects of religion on an individual’s happiness or other aspects impacting an individual’s life should focus on the qualitative information primarily while using the quantitative approach to supplement this method, as using the quantitative approach had plagued Western researchers in this manner (Nelson J.M., 2011). Psychology and its interest in religion is a relatively new concept in China when compared to other parts of the world. James M. Nelson suggests that scholars interested in the effects of religion on an individual’s happiness or other aspects impacting an individual’s life should focus on the qualitative information primarily while using the quantitative approach to supplement this method, as using the quantitative approach had plagued Western researchers in this manner (Nelson J.M., 2011). With the troublesome past between psychology and its studying of the impact of religion, it would seem that a bright future is on the horizon for the advent of research in this field.

Throughout Europe, Christianity is the largest practiced religion. Using the Francis Scale of Attitude towards Christianity as a basis to measure a devoted individual’s happiness being represented by mainly undergraduates in the United Kingdom, but at other times by younger teens and even adults up to their late seventies, it was found by Lewis et al. that religious people were often very happy and associated their happiness with religion (Lewis, C.A., Cruise, S.M., 2006). Cole and Lyons raise an interesting argument as their research within Belgium discovered that the individuals are more willing to associate themselves as believers of a religion because that was the consensus of the majority of the population, therefore if a majority of the population were comprised on nonbelievers they suggest that there may be a willingness to be considered nonbelievers especially if the individual had no definite association to any sort of religious group in the first place (Coyle, A., Lyons, E., 2011). Essentially, this research found that people might just associate themselves with the majority group in order to fit and relieve themselves from societal pressures in this regard. Another interesting point expressed by Coyle and Lyons is that in Greece, participants in a study considered themselves to have a higher degree of patriotism if they were associated with the religion of the majority of the state (Coyle, A., Lyons, E., 2011). This would increase the overall pride of the participant thereby increasing the happiness of individual. Hence, in another part of the world, with a different religion from the leading one in China, happiness results as a process of being religious. A central European figure in the study of the psychology religion and its impact on individuals is Rudolf Otto who is a contemporary of his American counter part William James, they both shared the same approach to the study of religion with psychology (Nelson J.M., 2011). Otto along with James considered religion to be a central part of one’s life and went on further to say that it was used daily to make life decisions and in fact, if there were no decisions to make, no morals or ethical consideration to choose between, religion would not function, therefore religion is just as dependent on life as life is influenced by religion (Nelson J.M., 2011). This is an interesting point to consider, as each and every one of us must make decisions on a minute by minute basis, sometimes even every second, the implication that religious values are thoroughly entrenched within these decisions with or without us being mindful to their degree of severity is immensely important.

North America
Christianity is also very dominant in the North American cultures throughout the United Sates, Canada and Mexico and the studies conducted by Lewis et al. using graduate students of the United States reveals that they’re happiness is also associated with their religion, this was of course determined using the same Francis Scale of Attitude Towards Christianity as used previously in the European study (Lewis, C.A., Cruise, S.M., 2006). William James was an American psychologist who was interested with psychology and its relation to religious practices. He believed in taking a qualitative approach to gaining insight on the effects of religion on an individual while at the same time looking for any occurring patterns that were evident between each individual case (Nelson J.M., 2011). His basis for the connection between religion and psychology was that experiences and feelings of the religious kind would result in changes of behavior (Nelson J.M., 2011). His methodology was beneficial when studying Western religions such as Christianity but did not apply to some non-Western religions, specifically Buddhism (Nelson J.M., 2011). James, a pioneer in psychological and religious phenomena research, clearly regarded religion as having a major impact on an individual’s lifestyle and considered most of these changes to be positive and ethically correct according to societies standards. This is more prevalent if society shared the same religion as a majority of the population, which is true for most countries or regions at least.

The Effects of Different Religions on Individuals

The integration of religion and psychology has met much disapproval from scholars and believers a like, despite the continued interest in the topic, only of late have more individuals become receptive of the idea that the two concepts share many similarities that can be used to study human beings (Haque, A., 2001). The challenge is to distinguish between which phenomena have concrete impact on the lifestyle of an individual and develop methods for concluding to what degree the lifestyle of an individual is impacted (Coyle, A., Lyons, E., 2011). Western culture has been exposed to what has become known as the fundamentalist Islamic believer and it is a current research topic for psychologists to determine the degrees of impact religion had on an individual to become a fundamentalist and if these are combined with any prior psychological phenomena or conditions (Coyle, A., Lyons, E., 2011). Religion is often associated with a sense of meaning in one’s life and can be a source of strength when one faces uncertainty or insecurity as an individual often looks upon a deity or deities for guidance and support (Strizenec, M., 1999). This is extremely influential and relevant in daily activities. The lifestyle of an individual is impact upon how they view their religion. As in most cases, one feels that their religion is good and a positive assessment of their religion and what it comprises allows one to live an ethical life (Strizenec, M., 1999). However, if this image in distorted and one misinterprets their religion to cause the suffering of others, or advance their own agenda, this is often when insight in an individual’s psyche must be considered.

The distinction between Eastern and Western religions is not the location of its followers, but the beliefs that they follow. Eastern religions include the common Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and many more. Western religions include Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Majority of Eastern religions revolve around the teachers rather than a divine power.

Eastern and Western religions differ in way people worship them. In the Western culture, people typically worship together of a specific time and place. This creates a sense of community, and people will socialize after services. In Eastern cultures, people typically express their religions at any time and place, people worship privately at home or visit the temple at any given time. They also add religious practices into their daily routine. For example, a follower of Hinduism may wake up early to meditate before school or work and maybe after.

In addition, the Eastern religion believe in reincarnation Hinduism believes that if you do good in your life, you will more up in the caste system with good karma. Buddhism has a similar concept, they believe reincarnation will bring the individual to the ultimate goal, nirvana, and a divine essence.

Impact of Religion on Lifestyle

Daily Routine

Every religion has different routines and different practices, some people are very strict with their practises and some not as strict. While each and every day of one’s life is unique and different, there are things in life that are inevitably the same.

Christianity- Every Sunday a Christian should go to church. Christians should also dedicate a part of their day to spend time with God, praying and reading his word from the bible(Cutrer,W, 2009). Christians must practise what they understand and use it in their daily lives to become a better person and to become closer to God.

Islam- are united across boundaries of geography and culture through their observance of five practices known as the Five Pillars, or the Pillars of Islam. These include pledging one's faith (witnessing, the shahadah), ritual prayer (salat), charity to the poor (zakat), fasting during the month of Ramadan (sawm), and pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca (hajj). The Five Pillars are mentioned in the Quran (Arkoun, M. 1987). Ritual prayer, or salat, is a basic activity of daily life. Muslims are called to pray five times a day: before dawn, at midday, in the mid-afternoon, at sunset, and at night (Arkoun, M.1987). Before praying, one is expected to perform a ritual ablution, cleansing both mind and body. If water is available, the hands, arms, face, neck, and feet are washed.

Buddhism- In Buddhism, the mind and body are interconnected: bodily actions have an influence on the mind and thoughts in the mind generate action. By aligning the actions of body and mind, the precepts then become the foundation for developing mental stillness and clarity, which can then give rise to wisdom and insight (Michaelson, J. 2013). They are meant to support your personal growth and practice, as well as to develop happiness and benefit those around you. Buddhism teaches that the way to truly influence someone else is through your virtue and conduct. You can choose to commit to one, two, or all five of the precepts, as you are able. The precepts are as follows: (1) not killing, (2) not stealing, (3) not committing sexual misconduct, (4) not lying, and (5) not using intoxicants Michaelson, J. 2013)

Sikhism- a Sikh waking up early in the morning and taking his bath first. He or she should remember God by saying a morning prayer or citation. It is to be followed by the recitation of Guru Granth Sahib (Kaur, G. r. 2009). After performing all these tasks, daily in the morning, the Sikh should engage in his routine work. Daily prayers have, for centuries, been a central part of the Sikh routine. The Guru's compositions play a primary role in Sikh devotion from morning to night. Ideally before sunrise, Sikhs are supposed to wake up and recite Guru Nanak's hymn entitled Jap ("Recite"), also called Jap Ji (Kaur, G. r. 2009). Around sunset, they recite Sodar ("That House," also known as Rahiras, or "Sustenance") and perform Sohila ("Paean") before sleeping. These three main prayers form the liturgy section at the very beginning of the Guru Granth Sahib (Kaur, G. r. 2009).

Judaism- Immediately upon waking, Jews wash their hands ceremonially and recite the prayer Modeh Ani, thanking God for "restoring the soul," followed by the credo of the Shema Yisrael ("Hear O Israel the Lord our God, the Lord is One.") (Stone, M. 2013). Again, before retiring to sleep, they recite a blessing known as Ha-Mapil, imploring God to grant peaceful sleep, which is also followed by the invocation of the Shema.

Our research group has found that religious contingency is related to one’s subjective, daily well being. Personal aspects of religiosity (beliefs and orientations) are “shown to be related to higher levels of subjective well-being and resilience” (Green, M., Elliott, M., 2010) Specifically, frequent church attendance is shown to have positive effects on a person’s physical and mental health (Ellison, C.G., Burdette, A.M., Hill, T.D., 2009). Furthermore, these persons also had higher life satisfaction rates and happiness levels (Abdel-Khalek, A.M., 2006). In addition, a number of “longitudinal studies suggest that causality is likely to run from religiosity to psychological well-being, but the reverse is not true” (Childs, 2010).

Social Issues

Our research group has also found that, in a society that is based on strong community ties, anyone who violates a norm is typically met with withdrawal of social support and respect, open criticism, disregard, and even contempt. This works full force for any religious context. An unfriendly glance or negative comment from another person hits harder than one would think, and does not leave one’s emotional wellbeing unaffected. “For example, in an experiment by Nugier and colleagues (2007), participants imagined themselves performing uncivil acts (e.g., cutting in line in a post office) and then receiving informal social control (a negative comment concerning these behaviors given by another person). Their results showed that informal social control increased the levels of shame, embarrassment, anger, aggressiveness, and other negative emotions.” (Stavrova, O., Fetchenhauer, D., & Schlösser, T., 2013)

Religious Practices

From what we have so far, it seems as though religious people actually are happier than non-religious people. In the process of research and in the midst of our findings, our group still didn’t have the reason why. We decided to analyze actions such as religious practices. For our case, we looked at prayer. It seems that in cases of “uncertainty, serious illnesses, the death of a relative, or even threats to one’s own life” (Hogg, M.A., Adelman, J.R., Blagg, R.D., 2010), prayer is a method of “promising life after death; religion represents a powerful tool of mitigating death anxiety and thus serves a terror-management function as well (Vail, K.E., Rothschild, Z.K., Weise, D.R., Solomon, S., Pyszczynski, T., Greenberg, J., 2010). In addition, God represents an attachment figure that supplements personal affiliations or attachments in real life or compensates for the lack of them (Granqvist, P., Kirkpatrick, L., 2008).

Lifestyle of Individuals

From the criteria on lifestyle in individuals, religious people tended to be the happier people due to three reasons: a sense of being in the community, the gain in respect and being rewarded by others and the positive qualities acquired from religious activities.

In many studies conducted by psychologists, Quality of life (QOL) was used to measure the happiness of individuals by giving them questionnaires, asking them about the quality of life, life satisfaction, and the happiness in life etc. One of the studies shown that religious engagement gave individuals a sense of well-being in the community because places like church provided a platform for people to meet and communicated, therefore it fostered the integrity of the community ( Ferriss, 2002, p.202). Ferriss (2002) also identified that these were external factors which meant they could be influenced by the social responses from others within the religious group and other religious activities (p.203).

According to Stavrova, Fetchenhauer, and Schlosser (2002), in some countries, following a religion considered as behaving in a way that was generally accepted in society, just like obeying the social norm (p.90). In this concept, society treated deviant behavior performed by an individual as a ‘threat’ in order to limit or lower the variability between individuals. Therefore, Society rewarded those who behaved normally and sanctioned those displayed counter normative behavior. In some countries where the social norm of religiosity was strong, the effect of happiness in individuals from religion was significantly increased because religious individuals received more approval and more culturally identified from others in society; conversely, non-religious individuals were being treated less equally compared to their religious counterparts and lack of social recognition could be the reason why non-religious individuals were generally unpleasant in those countries. However, there was no difference between religious and non-religious individuals in terms of how they were being treated in countries where the social norm of religiosity was weak (Stavrova, 2002, p.95). Moreover, Stavrova et al (2002) also stated non-religious individuals living in religious countries often being asked about the reasons why they skipped religious activities; they feel embarrassed to express their real thoughts in their mind and it made them uncomfortable to act according to the religious tradition (p.100). Furthermore, there were laws in some countries deprived the basic rights of atheists, for example: atheists couldn’t get marry, received public schooling, and participated in a nationwide election. Even in the country like America where there was no official religion, there were a set of laws limited the roles of atheists to public duties, which gave a false sense to people by implying that religious people could enjoy the basic rights of citizens, but not non-religious individuals (Ohlheiser, 2013). From the information above, inequality might be a factor that reduced life-satisfaction and happiness in non-religious individuals.

Religious people were the happier people because they possessed several positive qualities from religion. Josh et al (2008) stated that individuals with intrinsic orientation were most likely to live with religious beliefs, resulting in a greater sense of well-being, decreased anger, hostility and better social relation with other. Conversely, patients with extrinsic orientation used religion as a way to provide participation for individuals in terms of consolation and social status, resulting in depression and anxiety. Moreover, religious individuals were more likely to apply positive coping method to deal with the problems they had in normal daily life which included finding lessons from God, tried their best to achieve the goal and handed the rest of them to god. (p.348). In addition, faith, hopes, forgiveness, love and social support both had a positive impact on one’s emotion. From the study, they discovered that un-forgiveness could increase the rate of anxiety, increase the incidence of heart-related diseases, therefore more susceptible to any physical illness. In the criteria of love and social support, social support and love could reduce the level of stress in individuals and individuals who received enough love and support were more able to maintain a positive altitude in life. Faith and hope were essential ingredients for religious individuals because it promoted a desire for positive consequences related to the situation, therefore it kept them continued to work on the issue. Some of the psychologists treated religion as therapy to certain diseases, such as eating disorder and dementia, but there was no evidence to show that it was effective( Joshi et al,2008, p.350).


This image comedically displays the often strained relationship between the study of psychology and religion. The Social Psychology of Radical Martyrdom Culture. Web. 02 Apr. 2014.


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