By Aaron Earls
Around the world, religious people are more likely to be happy than irreligious people—but only if they show up to church on Sunday.
In analyzing survey data from the United States and more than two dozen other countries, Pew Research discovered people who are active in religious congregations “tend to be happier and more civically engaged than either religiously unaffiliated adults or inactive members of religious groups.”
Pew broke respondents into three categories: actives, those who identified with a religious group and attended services at least once a month; inactives, those who identified with a religious group but attended less frequently; religiously unaffiliated, those who do not identify with a religious group.
In the United States, 40 percent of adults are considered religiously active, 27 percent are inactive, and 34 percent are religiously unaffiliated.
According to Pew’s analysis “regular participation in religious community clearly is linked with higher levels of happiness …. This may suggest that societies with declining levels of religious engagement, like the U.S., could be at risk for declines in personal and societal well-being.”
In the United States, 36 percent of religiously active adults say they are “very happy,” compared to 25 percent of both inactives and religiously unaffiliated.
In additional to personal happiness, those who regularly attend church in the U.S. are more likely to say they are in very good health, don’t currently smoke, avoid frequent drinking, and exercise several times per week.
The religiously unaffiliated are slightly more likely than religious active adults to say they aren’t obese. Both are more likely to say so than inactives.
Those who are active a religious organization are also more likely to be socially active in other ways, including belonging to a non-religious organization and always voting in national elections.
The happiness gap is not limited to the United States.
“Across 25 other countries for which data are available, actives report being happier than the unaffiliated by a statistically significant margin in almost half (12 countries),” according to the report, “and happier than inactively religious adults in roughly one-third (nine) of the countries.”
Aaron is the senior writer at Lifeway Research.