“BBC NEWS | Health | Religion ‘linked to happy life'”

Via Shadow To Light:

A belief in God could lead to a more contented life, research suggests. Religious people are better able to cope with shocks such as losing a job or divorce, claims the study presented to a Royal Economic Society conference. Data from thousands of Europeans revealed higher levels of “life satisfaction” in believers.

[Link: BBC NEWS | Health | Religion ‘linked to happy life’]

This adds to a growing list of positive relationships between spirituality and life outcomes. Research such as that reported here is very consistent in showing similar results. Please note on that page some guidelines on how to interpret studies of this nature. Here, from the BBC report, is one person’s take on what it means:

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, which represents the interests of atheists and agnostics, said that studies purporting to show a link between happiness and religion were “all meaningless”.

“Non-believers can’t just turn on a faith in order to be happy. If you find religious claims incredible, then you won’t believe them, whatever the supposed rewards in terms of personal fulfilment.

“Happiness is an elusive concept, anyway – I find listening to classical music blissful and watching football repulsive.

“Other people feel exactly the opposite. In the end, it comes down to the individual and, to an extent, their genetic predispositions.”

As far as can be told from this quote, Mr. Sanderson appears to consider this “meaningless” just in terms of telling what we each can do to achieve happiness. (He very well may have said more, but all we have available to deal with is what the reporter gave us.) Perhaps he’s right that it is meaningless for that purpose. There is another way to interpret studies like this, though, which is as supporting the predictions made by religions. Christianity predicts followers will experience increased joy, contentment, satisfaction, and resilience (“happiness” was by no means the only factor mentioned in this report).

Bearing in mind the proper caution with which correlational studies should be interpreted, this nevertheless indicates support for the predictions made by Christianity. (The majority of subjects in the studies I’ve linked to in my list of positive relationships are Christians, and the current BBC report was on research conducted just with Catholics and Protestants.)

As for “happiness,” Sanderson is exactly right about its being an elusive concept, and not at all exclusive to Christians or other religious persons. Christianity tends to emphasize levels of satisfaction much deeper and more enduring than that: for example, joy, contentment, satisfaction, and resilience.