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Religion 'ISN'T the secret to happiness', global study claims

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 18/06/2021 Steve Doughty Social Affairs Correspondent For The Daily Mail
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Atheists are just as happy as devout religious believers, a study said yesterday. 

It confounded the long-accepted convention that confirmed Christians and the convinced followers of other faiths are happier and more content with their lives than those without religion.

But the researchers found that either a firm belief in God or strong atheist views are more likely to lead to a satisfied mind than a loose attachment to religious faith.

The findings were based on happiness surveys carried out in 24 countries which asked both about religious belief and levels of satisfaction with life.

Academics from the Journal of Happiness Studies at the University of Cologne divided levels of belief and non-belief into four categories and found that all except ‘weakly religious’ showed similar levels of life satisfaction, and all were higher than the ‘weakly religious’ group.

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They said the importance of Christianity to happiness has been exaggerated because the evidence is often drawn from America and its large ‘Bible Belt’ population of believers.

The findings conflict with those of some major international studies.


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A project published in 2019 by the respected Washington-based Pew Research Centre said actively religious people were happier than non-religious people in half of the 36 countries it looked at. It found religious people were notably happier than others not only in the US, but in Japan, Australia and Germany.

A British study carried out by academics from Lancaster University said this spring that teenagers who believe in God have scored higher GCSE results than others.

The Cologne researchers said religion and happiness depend heavily on the country involved. In strictly religious countries, atheists are less satisfied with their lives, but ratings improve in more liberal countries with a high proportion of non-believers.

They suggested this could be linked to discrimination against atheists in theocracies or highly religious states.

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The findings were based on the Swedish-based World Values Survey, a collaboration between social scientists covering 100 countries including Britain and 400,000 individuals.

Researcher Katharina Pohls said: ‘Previous research has predominantly found evidence for a universal and linear relationship between religiosity and life satisfaction, which has led to the conclusion that highly religious people are more satisfied with life than non-religious people.

‘The reason for this belief is previous studies were mainly focused on US American samples, without taking the influence of differences between countries into consideration, as well as not differentiating between non-religious subgroups.’

She added: ‘The impact of religion on life satisfaction depends on multiple factors, amongst others, the type of non-religious subgroup to which an individual belongs, the country’s social norm of religiosity, and the societal level of development.’ 

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