Happy…and not religious

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Yahoo travel produced a piece on the world’s happiest countries citing data from a Gallup poll that looked at responses from 155 countries between 2005 and 2009. “First they asked subjects to reflect on their overall satisfaction with their lives, and ranked their answers using a ‘life evaluation’ score between 1 and 10. Then they […]

  • This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Religiosity has been shown to be correlated to many negative societal qualities.

    The Pew Forum has been doing surveys on religiosity in the US. States with the highest religiosity, i.e. Mississippi where 82% say religion is very important to them), tend to have the lowest educational levels and IQ quotient; highest teen pregnancy rates; highest crime rates; highest unemployment; lowest standard of living.

    In contrast, states that are among the least religious (i.e NH, VT with only 36% of respondents saying religion is very important to them) ) have precisely the opposite stats as the most religious states.

    So to see the least religious countries being both properous and happier than those countries that are most religious simply reaffirms what we know. Desperate people with no hope and little prospects fall back on supernaturalism. Productive, educated and self-reliant people reject supernaturalism as counter productive and unnecesary to leading a fulfilling life.

  • Charles

    This should not be a surprise to anyone who holds firm religious beliefs either. Religion, and Christianity in particular is not a ticket to “happiness” in this world. One of the central messages of the gospel is that life is full of suffering and if Christ himself suffered, we must also in our journey through this world. People who are wealthy and happy probably don’t think much about God or praying. Think about it – why would you pray to God when you have everything you want? People are more likely to pray when they are in bad circumstances, not “fat dumb and happy” like most of us in the western world. In Christ’s own words it is difficult for a rich man to get into heaven – perhaps because the rich man already thinks that he has everything that he wants and doesn’t think he needs God.

  • Charles..thanks for confirming so much of what thinking people understand religion to be.

    Right.. the central message of Christianity is suffering, death, fear of going to Hell, dead things rising, life after death, eternal torture, reward after death. The common theme in Christian dogma is “if your life is crap don’t worry about it, everything will be great when you die and go to Candyland.”

    It’s ostensibly a death cult. It’s what makes it so attractive to the 3rd world undereducated, and impoverished people with little potential to influence their lives. Is it any wonder that it flourishes in Africa?

    And indeed, praying is all about hoping for “pie in the sky” to fall in ones lap. It’s what makes Prosperity Gospel such a hot religious concept. The lack of self reliance and personal accountability in so many religionists is what prompts them to pray to a non-ecxistent god for cars, money, jobs, happiness, when all of it is in their own hands to begin with.

    Why would anyone with a happy life, solid education, a respect for reality and reason, good family ties, wonderful children, many friends, outside activites, no money worries, self determination and who takes personal responsibility for their life — need an imaginary friend who promises good stuff… once you’re dead… in exchange for blindly accepting the absurd supernaturalist, and patently silly fables of bronze age, or 2nd century cultists? I can’t think of any reason at all.

  • molk

    Could it not also be interpreted that people that are well off and have a nice life, see less need for God, and therefore become less religious ?

  • Han

    Given that there is a (negative) correlation between religiosity and happiness, the question is what causes happiness or religiosity? Another factor that correlates strongly with happiness and secularization is the extend to which a society is egalitarian. See also “The Spirit Level” by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.

  • Molk,
    Actually evidence indicates you have that backwards.

    Atheists are generally better educated than religionists. They tend not to believe in the unsupportable, non-scientific, and historically rejected concepts (i.e. the 1000’s of other gods that you reject along with atheists). Thus, it’s not a matter of having no need for a god, it’s a matter of it simply being a man made convention thus non-existant.

    When one is not encumbered by supernaturalistic belief… that a god will answer prayers; that a god will do what’s right; that a god will find your next job, feed your family, take care of your retirement, forgive your crimes, etc. etc., then one takes personal responsibility for their lives. When one is in control of ones life & destiny, and not dependent on the good will of some imagined boogie man, one tends to maximize life’s potential.

  • PS: Think about the amount of time religionists spend praying; thinking about death, “sin”, other people’s sex lives, heaven, salvation, the ends times / rapture; reading fables in their directory of contradictions.

    Now imagine appying that time in a useful manner– reading non-fiction, becomeing educated in real world issues, psychology, sociology,comparative religions, philosophy, the hard scientific disciplines; working / fund raising for your favorite charity; coaching little league; focusing on your career options; becoming educated on financial matters; making love to your spouse; planning for your future; attending advanced adult education classes.

    Which one of those options have a positive and MEASURABLE effect on the quality of one’s life? I’m not talking imagined and mystical and essoteric concepts of life…much less the imaginary life after death… I’m talking the real world and real life.

    If the answer is the former… the religionist option … then one would have to expect that rejecting all real world initiatives and pursuits and exclusively devoting ones entire life ONLY to religious pursuits 100% of the time, would make that person happy, successful, and financially independent. Try and imagine having zero secular education or focus and being exclusively religious. What would you be giving up?

    If the answer is the latter… the freethinker option … then it follows that rejecting all supernaturalist fable, focusing only on real world issues would maximize the likelihood of success, and satisfaction with ones real life, however one measures it.

    Unfortunately, that option doesn’t always exist since indoctrination into religious think / religious doctrine begins typically at a very early age. When that happens the “option” is chosen for them, not self determined, and it is very difficult to break that bond. Imagine being raised in a muslim family and from earliest childhood being told that Allah hates Jews and wants you to hate them too. What are the odds you’d grow up not to hate Jews?

    anyway… I have typed myself into an arthritic flare up.
    Don’t bother to pray for me … I have Advil.

  • Charles

    Bart, you have it exactly wrong. When I said that religion is about suffering, it meant that the people in the world that are in unfortunate circumstances can identify more clearly with God than do people who have all of their material needs met. If you are not “poor in spirit” you have no need of God – you have replaced Him with your own riches and secular idols. The poor and disadvantaged around the world identify more closely with a God that lived and died for them and thus they are more religious.

    The real message of Christianity is not that you should accept that your life is “crap”, but rather that you should not focus on empty Earthly pleasures and should give yourself to the service of others in this world. Because of sinful people, this world is inherently unjust, therefore, how can anyone who is truly concerned about their fellow human being truly be “happy” in this world when there is so much evil in it? Christianity tells you to SERVE the world and try to make things better. The entire idea of charity in the western world is tied directly to the Judeo-Christian moral ethic.

    By the way, you have my prayers whether you want them or not!

    God bless!

  • Charles,

    Interesting. I assume you’ve sold all your posessions and given the profits to the poor and live a life of poverty and chastity… as jesus suggested. Kudos to yoiu for that.

    But it doesn’t negate the basic premise that death and dying and suffering, and sacrifice of ones son, and eternal suffering/torture after death, reward after death.. are indeed central to christianity. It’s so immersed in these things that it has become the central focus in many denominations. The obsession with death is palitable.

    as for service…please. Christian services are predicated on fishing for recruits. Its never been soley about eliminating pain or death of others. Service to others is an opportunity to hook ’em. Just look at the catholic church and how they promote Jesus instead of condoms to fight AIDS. If 10000 die due to lack of education and availability of condoms, and the Pope’s condemnation of them, it’s a small price to pay to win a few hundred converts.
    And then there is the Mormons and other denominations and christian “leaders” who spend millions and give hostile lip service to fight gay’s rights to secular marriage… some service.

    Charles free to pray for me all you like. It’s a meaningless platitude that christians like to whip out when in discourse with non-believers. We’re used to it. It’s silly. Infact, while your praying why not sacrifice a chicken — it’s effect would be the same. If your really wanted to help people, and want to pray for them, why not pray for amputees’ limbs to regrow? Let me know how that works out.

    Tell ya what Charles, I’ll make a bargain with you. You pray for me, and I’ll think for you.

  • Charles

    Hi Brad,

    Well the chickens here are safe for now. Thanks for “thinking” for me – after all, traditional Christianity certainly does not simply rely on faith while you check your brain at the door – true wisdom comes from both rational logical thought AND faith. If you don’t believe me, read some works by G.K. Chesterton or more recently by Peter Hitchens. Most atheists seem to believe that pure reason is all you need to understand everything, but without faith it is insufficient. After all, if you study physics, philosophy etc. it can tell you how the universe works, but it cannot tell you what is the RIGHT thing to do.

    Christians have done a lot of really terrible things over the years. But you cannot let atheists off of the hook here either because the secular ideologies have killed/or harmed millions of people too. No, I am not a hermit living in the hills that has sold all of my money to the poor, so I cannot call myself a “good” Christian. But part of being a Christian is realizing that NOBODY is a good Christian and that we all fall short of the ideal. Maybe some day if I spiritually advance enough I may just get to those hills after all. I think that another reason that atheists resent Christians is that nobody wants to hear that they are sinners, so it is much easier to simply turn off and say that there is no sin, and therefore all morals are relative. Unfortunately the atheists are missing the point here, because a true Christian would say “yes, you are a sinner, but so am I and we should both seek righteousness together”. It is very hard in an individualistic society to humble oneself before anything, which is precisely what Christianity requires you to do.

    Yet if you look at the sum and total of the influence of Christianity on modern society I would argue that you have a tremendous force for good that has helped millions of people. The truly great examples of modern day saints go anonymous while the Christians that are involved in scandals make all of the headlines (and rightly so).

    Anyway, thanks for reading my posts and engaging in spirited discussion.

    God bless,


  • That anyone today still proffers that without supernaturalism one doesn’t know the “right thing to do”, i.e. lacks morals and ethics, speaks volumes about the rejection of secular knowledge & prima fasica evidence; and lack of reason inherent in the vast majority of the devout.

    Martin Luther said it best: “Reason is the enemy of faith.”

  • PS: and may Dogs bless you as well. (Ya gotta love that passive aggessive Christian platitude affectation.)

  • jaspalbert

    Interesting article. The measurement of happiness and religiosity are interesting that can be difficult to quantify.
    Thanks for sharing this.

  • Todd Stiefel

    This data helps dispel the myth that atheists are more angry than other people. That is simply an attack by religionists to try to slander those that are not like. Some atheists are angry, just like some religionists. Apparently, there is a trend that less religious countries are more happy, not more angry. I would love to see enough data to get statistical significance, but the trend is still fascinating.

  • Michelle B

    Yes, Bart, to be Christian in my book is to be drenched in passive-aggressiveness. And when you point that out to them, they just pour on the passive-aggressiveness even more. Push and pull, push and pull, push and pull, that is their psychological modus operandi. And they have no idea how repugnant and obnoxious they are, as they are filled with righteousness not a balanced set of emotions, knowledge, and acceptance of reality.

    Their obsession that sin is the reason why people can be so awful is beyond ridicule, it is not even wrong. How primitive can you get? evolution has given us one out of every five peopleto be without empathy. Hence the battle to achieve fairness and happiness in our only one life that we have.

    Their conceit that Christianity is good is also not even wrong. And even if it has, it is bollocks! You can be good without bollocks. Enjoying life is not superficial, it is an effort to set an example how life is to be lived, it is encouragement and inspiration for others.

  • Christian B

    Oh people of science, do remember that religion might not be a cause, but an effect of a society with negative tendencies on quality of life.

  • Rick

    Ho hum.
    Bart, It comes as no surprise to this Athiest that god botherin’ is a health hazard and an obviously ineffective crutch. Come on over to richarddawkins.net to get it touch with us godless hoards. We may be a bit smug but life’s to good to waste in narcissistic fantasy.


  • Andreas

    Hi Charles,

    You are very close to a source of real enlightenment. Just switch your reading to Peter Hitchens brother and you’re there! Come on Charles, join us in the thinking world, it is only one brother away.

    Odin bless


  • T.

    Thanks for the great article & spirited comments…

    As a “super-evangelical” turned agnostic, I sympathize with both sides… By which I mean I have a sort of compassion for both camps (whether I like it or not). 🙂 I was in the christian world too long to believe it’s a wholly lovely place; however, I was also in it too long to believe it’s homogenous. There are good, good people who believe in God, whose intentions are pure and truly others-directed, who are not naive, passive-aggressive, etc. These christians may be needles in haystacks, but they exist.

    I’ve also been in the “non-christian world” too long to believe it’s a wholly lovely place, but again – I’ve been around enough to know that atheists and agnostics are rarely simply arrogant/well-off and therefore afraid of submitting to God. Christians often see atheists as rejecting God out of spite, but really — Those of us who don’t believe simply — don’t believe. They’re/we’re not choosing unbelief to spite anyone or to spurn anyone’s ideals. In addition, a good lot of us are happy in the deep sense. It’s not as if life is perfect, but it is whole, full, often others-oriented, and deeply meaningful. We’re not godless bastards living for ourselves; one doesn’t need God to love other people. (Note: this latter realization came as a profound surprise to me when I lost my faith.)

    So anyway, blah blah blah, sorry for my verbosity, what I’m taking away from this comment section is this: I think a real mark of happiness is kindness toward others; an ability to allow other human beings to pursue a meaningful life in the way that’s right for them; an ability to refrain from judgment as well as from labeling, which is simply a mechanism for dismissal.
    I loathe being labeled and dismissed; I perceive myself as complex, as needing more than one word to describe my life and views. Even so, I myself often label/dismiss OTHERS before even realizing I’ve done it. (I’m particularly guilty of this when it comes to the way I regard folks in the rightwing republican camp. I’m working on this, because my tendency to label and dismiss them doesn’t make me happy. Not even in the moment.)
    Which brings me (finally) to my point:
    Regardless of religion or secularism, criticizing, condemning, patronizing, or demeaning another person feels “off” or wrong in some way, even if satisfying in the moment. At the very least, we can all likely agree it’s no source of happiness. It’s easy to do it in the blogosphere or anywhere online; things are so impersonal anyway… But I think if any of us met one another face to face, we’d likely be kind, personable, and perhaps even infectious interlocutors, regardless of differing worldviews.

    I’m *not* advocating “live and let live,” because obviously some beliefs lead to harm, and those beliefs/followers need to be addressed in some way. But — Addressing them, and working for an overall good in the world, doesn’t require criticism, condemnation, patronizing, or diminution of other beings. I guess what I’m advocating is kindness, a deep encompassing kindness… I think it’s a symptom and a cause of happiness.

    I sound like a hippy now. Sigh 🙂


  • Peter

    One thing that I don’t think has been mentioned is this: the survey only shows a “correlation” between low religiosity and high degrees of happiness, which does not mean causation.

    Since all the happy countries are rich countries, could it be that money buys happiness as it is defined in the survey? There is data that shows a positive relationship between health and religiosity, so I’m skeptical about simple idea of religion causing unhappiness. There may be “third” variables at work here, like wealth.

    So if poor people are more depressed than rich people, what might make them happier? Sharing.


  • Charles

    There really was nothing passive aggressive about it – I honestly hope the best for you all when I say “God bless”. It’s part of the Christian mission to pray for those with whom you don’t see eye to eye. Even if you think that religion is a bunch of hogwash, why would it bother you if a religious person is praying for you? Would it make you more happy if I got really mad and started using ad hominem attacks and offering snarky comments like many of the atheists do? Anyway, Peter’s point I think dovetails into my own, that the article (as well as most of the atheists reading this) assume a certain level of causation in the data – i.e. that people are happy because they are not religious. I think that this assumption is inaccurate and the data can be explained by A LOT of different factors. Religion does not equate to happiness but DOES in my opinion lead to a much more fulfilling way of looking at the world.

    God Bless,