A couple months ago I linked to a story about the happiest guy in the world. One of the ways this was calculated was based on religion – religious people are typically assumed to be the happier than non-religious people. And apparently religious Jews are expected to be happiest of all.
But are religious people actually happier? According to Nigel Barber, an evolutionary psychologist, that might not be the case. Barber writes:
Much of the research linking religiosity and happiness was conducted in the U.S. where more religious people are slightly happier. Researchers saw this as evidence for the universal benefits of religion (a perspective that interests evolutionary psychologists like myself because it helps explain why religion is so common around the globe). Yet, there is no association between religiousness and happiness in either Denmark or the Netherlands (3).
Why the difference? Religious people are in the majority in the U.S., but in a minority in Denmark and the Netherlands. Feeling part of the mainstream may be comforting whereas being in the minority is potentially stressful. Ethnic minorities around the world tend to have higher blood pressure, for example – this being a reliable index of stress.
If religion contributes to happiness, then the most religious countries should be happiest. Yet, the opposite is true.
Could it be then that the level of happiness enjoyed by religious people in the U.S. is a result of conformity, rather than religion itself? If that were the case, we should expect religious people in more secular countries, controlled for income, to be less happy than non-religious people in those countries. Is this the case?
Here’s a recent ranking of the top 10 happiest countries in the world.