3 and/or 4 Reasons Religion Makes You Happier and Helps You Live Longer

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by Neil Godfrey

Don’t let anyone call Vridar an anti-religion blog anymore. Having just listened to the podcast Does religion make you happier? on the ABC God Forbid program I have seen the light.

In the program the PERMA model for happiness was discussed. I can understand religious people meeting the PERM of that model:

  • P – Positive Emotion
  • E – Engagement
  • R – Relationships
  • M – Meaning

In addition to those, here are three possibly more immediately practical reasons religion makes people happier and live longer:

1. Religion teaches self-discipline, self-control, self-restraint, giving up the immediate pleasures for a longer term benefit. And people who have higher self-esteem and are more content with life are those who achieve success and success is generally related to one’s self-discipline in life.

2. Religion teaches that there is someone watching you 24/7 and that makes it easier for you to exercise self-control and be good. The aim is not always fear of Big Brother (recall that totalitarian states have less crime) but also the desire to please that Big Eye in the Sky, the loving father, or mother, watching over you for your good. And by pleasing that Big Meaningful Other in your life you feel good. And the self-discipline … see #1 above.

3. Religious affiliation generally provides a person with a far wider network of friends, companions, supports than they might otherwise have. Recall Rodney Stark’s argument in this book on the growth of Christianity that Christians attracted positive attention when they were found to be far more likely to survive the plagues. The Christian networks provided care and soup for the ill so they were more likely to recover than many others.

This is not the first time I’ve said nice things about the religious experience. I’m sure I’ve posted before about the stats indicating the happiest people are those who believe in God and enjoy watching soap operas. But more seriously I’ve also posted a serious list of positives that I took out of my own cult experience. I think it is important to recognize the positive in ones experiences, not just the negatives, to assist with a healthy response and recovery.

So let no one say I try not to be fair.

Now. If only I could bring myself to believe . . . . .


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Neil Godfrey

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12 thoughts on “3 and/or 4 Reasons Religion Makes You Happier and Helps You Live Longer”

  1. I pondered all those wonderful benefits and decided I’d rather eat my soup from a can and die young.

    All those assertions don’t pass simple statistical tests since the answers are self-reported and never subjected to the gold standard of medical science, double-blind studies. There is one exception that I know of: studies of Seventh Day Adventists by Loma Linda Univ. show they do live longer. Not because they are devout but because they are vegetarians.

    (Fun post, thanks)

  2. I agree. I think the new atheists active hostility to religion as well as to supernatural beliefs has been counterproductive.

    Still we must keep in mind that religion also inculcates guilt and fear, that it creates an us versus them mentality that invariably demeans the them and provides the pretext for hostility and aggression, and that the very idea of divine sanction for behavior can lead people into behaviors that neither justice nor prudence would warrant.

  3. It’s been well known that there’s a positive correlation between religion and well-being when looking at the individual, but a negative correlation between religion and well-being when looking at countries. So if you want to make religion look good, cite individual data. When you want to make religion look bad, cite aggregate data. This might be an example of Simpson’s Paradox:

    Simpson’s paradox, or the Yule–Simpson effect, is a phenomenon in probability and statistics, in which a trend appears in several different groups of data but disappears or reverses when these groups are combined. It is sometimes given the descriptive title reversal paradox or amalgamation paradox.

    This result is often encountered in social-science and medical-science statistics and is particularly problematic when frequency data is unduly given causal interpretations. The paradoxical elements disappear when causal relations are brought into consideration. It has been used to try to inform the non-specialist or public audience about the kind of misleading results mis-applied statistics can generate.

  4. So religion makes people feel good.

    If you’re spouse was cheating on you, I guess believing that he/she was still faithful (despite evidence to the contrary) would make you feel good. But is that a good reason to continue believing the falsehood?

    Yes, being religious can have positive effects, but it isn’t as if those effects can only be realized via religion; they can be achieved by other readily available means.

    “Feel good” is not a valid reason to believe anything. Much better to pursue the truth.

  5. Religion doesn’t “teach” self-control; it simply asserts that everyone should have enough of it for everything. Unfortunately, that’s just false from addiction to hot temper, etc. Why are there sex scandals involving clergy?

    If you’re going to get additional motivation for being a better person from a source other than yourself, why isn’t it enough that you’ll be making other people happy? How is it that imagining that I’m also satisfying a Sky Daddy so much more important?

    If you go to the Church, you may get a network indeed. That network won’t have Christians from other denominations, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, or atheists. Why is this the network you need? (You could also join a book club, a gym, etc.)

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