Pew Study Links Religious Activity to Happiness

(CN) — Around the world, being an active participant in a religious congregation is a key factor to happiness, the Pew Research Center reported Thursday.

The results of the study, conducted in 26 countries, showed that those who are actively involved in a congregation tend to be happier and more civically engaged than those who are inactive members of a religious group or not affiliated with a religion. 

While actively religious people may drink and smoke less, they are not healthy with regard to obesity rates and fitness, the survey shows. In fact, those unaffiliated are more likely to exercise several times per week than those who are spiritually active.

Though most countries showed no gap when it comes to obesity among people who are religiously active or affiliated but inactive, the United States was an outlier. In America, those who are religious are less likely than the inactive-but-affiliated set to have a BMI of as least 30. Taiwan and Mexico also proved exceptions.

The survey asked adult participants to self-assess themselves on eight different indicators, including happiness, individual health and civic participation. 

For example, of actively religious people surveyed in the U.S., 36 percent said they were very happy, as opposed to those unaffiliated with religion where only 25 percent felt as such. 

On the other hand, in Mexico, 71 percent of actively religious people considered themselves to be happy, and 61 percent of those unaffiliated said they were happy.

Overall, there is no data provided in the study that shows actively religious people are less happy than inactive or unaffiliated. 

While the study notes that there is little evidence to suggest that religious affiliation on its own can be associated with happier and more involved citizens, it suggests that countries with declining religious engagement, as is seen in the U.S., could be a risk factor for declines in societal well being. 

On the civic-participation front, religiously active people are more likely to be involved in at least one other nonreligious group, such as a sports club or charity, as shown in 12 of the surveyed countries. 

Religious Americans are more likely to vote, with 69 percent of actively religious people voting in every national election where only 48 percent of unaffiliated people voted.

Outside of the U.S., half of the countries of which the data was available, actively religious people are still more likely to vote.

The studied noted that most of the countries surveyed are mostly Christian-majority, apart from a few African and Asian countries. The reasoning for this was that religions such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism, often practiced in America and Europe, have regular attendance practices. 

Pew also pointed out that further research needs to be done, and that this does not prove that being actively involved in a religious congregation could have a direct effect of a person’s overall well being.

The findings from this report were a part of cross-national surveys conducted since 2010 among Pew, International Social Survey Programme and The World Values Surveys Association.

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