Are Religious People Happier? Secular Humanists Say No, And Yet...

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Posted: Nov 07, 2019 1:25 PM
Are Religious People Happier? Secular Humanists Say No, And Yet...

Source: AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Social scientists have been studying and doing surveys on happiness ever since Thomas Jefferson declared that we have the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” 

Lately there’s been a major debate:  Are religious people happier than non-religious people, the “nones”? 

Survey after survey indicates that they are.  One academic concluded, “The happiest people tend to be religious, married, with high self-esteem and job morale and modest aspirations. It seems your gender and level of intelligence don’t necessarily come into it.” 

According to a 2014 Pew Research survey, “religiously active people are typically happier and more ‘civically engaged’ – meaning they are more likely to do things such as vote in elections or join community groups — than adults who either do not practice a religion or do not actively participate in one.” 

But secular humanists will have none of it.  The editor of the Humanist states:  “This study shows the same methodological flaw seen time and time again: measuring religiosity in large part by how often people attend religious services. This creates a comparison that doesn’t measure the differences between the religious and the nonreligious, but instead measures the difference between those that have strong community connections and those that do not. ‘Community’ has positive outcomes, not religion.” 

Yet hasn’t the religious life, especially the Christian faith, been exactly that — losing yourself in others?  Christianity has been in the forefront of charitable and community work, and were the first to establish “Good Samaritan” hospitals, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and welfare for the poor and needy.  They are the “first responders” to any natural or man-made disaster. 

I once asked the biologist Richard Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion,” if his non-profit foundation helps out during disasters like Christian groups do, and he replied, “not yet.” 

Dan Buettner, a National Geographic fellow and author of “The Blue Zones of Happiness:  Lessons from the World’s Happiest People,” takes a secular humanist approach to happiness.  If you take his “Blue Zones Happiness Test” (go to https://apps.bluezones.com/en/happiness) you will find that most people are happier living with a “loving partner,” have friends, get at least 30 minutes of physical exercise daily, own a dog and have a purpose in life. 

(Note that this survey requires you to register with Blue Zones and reveals much personal information you may not want to share with others.) 

His survey also asks if you have children, which can be a major source of happiness — or heartache! It appears that secular humanists like dogs better than children, because pets like you even if you behave badly. 

His survey asks how many intimate friends you have and whether you volunteer for charity work, but there is no question about your religious faith and practice. None. In fact, his question on meditation (yoga or tai chi) requires it to be “non-religious” — so meditating through prayer or communion doesn’t count!  Humanists are fond of making a difference between the “spiritual” and “religious” meaning in life. 

Yet communion with God can be one of the highest sources of happiness.  A godly life can offer “life more abundantly.” (John 10:10)

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