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Monday, October 01, 2007

Religious people are the happiest

Despite the recent disclosures about Mother Teresa's spiritual struggles, the data suggest that religious people are happier than the somewhat religious and the nonreligious alike:

Americans can be divided into three groups when it comes to religious practice. Surveys indicate that about 30% attend houses of worship at least once per week (I will call them "religious"), while about 20% are "secular"--never attending. The rest attend sometimes, but irregularly. These population dimensions have changed relatively little over the decades: Since the early 1970s, the religious group has not shrunk by more than two or three percentage points.

How do religious Americans compare to the secular when it comes to happiness? In 2004, the General Social Survey asked a sample of Americans, "Would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?" Religious people were more than twice as likely as the secular to say they were "very happy" (43% to 21%). Meanwhile, secular people were nearly three times as likely as the religious to say they were not too happy (21% to 8%). In the same survey, religious people were more than a third more likely than the secular to say they were optimistic about the future (34% to 24%).

The happiness gap between religious and secular people is not because of money or other personal characteristics. Imagine two people who are identical in every important way--income, education, age, sex, family status, race and political views. The only difference is that the first person is religious; the second is secular. The religious person will still be 21 percentage points more likely than the secular person to say that he or she is very happy.


More here from the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal.com.

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