New research attempts to shed some light on the relationship between religion and well-being in adults.

By Meghan Overdeep
February 7, 2019

The results of a recent Pew Research Center study only deepen the mystery of faith and its impact on our well-being.

According to new research, people who are active members of a religious community are more likely to describe themselves as “very happy” than those without strong religious ties.

After analyzing data from 35 countries including the United States, Pew researchers concluded that participation in a religious community of any form is “clearly” linked with higher levels of happiness and civic engagement.

“Actively religious people in the U.S. are more likely to say they are very happy, that they vote in national elections and that they’re more engaged in community life in the sense that they belong to at least one nonreligious organization,” explained Conrad Hackett, associate director for research and senior demographer for Pew Research Center.

In the U.S., more than one-third of actively religious adults (36%) describe themselves as very happy, compared with just a quarter of both religiously inactive and unaffiliated Americans. Additionally, 58% of religious American adults reported being involved with at least one voluntary charity organization, while only 51% percent of inactively religious adults and 39% of the religiously unaffiliated said the same. 

It’s important to note that the numbers do not prove that going to religious services is directly responsible for improving people’s lives. “Rather, it could be that certain kinds of people tend to be active in multiple types of activities (secular as well as religious), many of which may provide physical or psychological benefits,” the researchers wrote. “Moreover, such people may be more active partly because they are happier and healthier, rather than the other way around.”

As researchers point out, this kind of discovery could reveal a potentially dangerous flipside. “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,” they wrote.

Ellen Idler, a sociology professor at Emory College and an adviser on the report, told HuffPost that there is a long history of social science research that shows religiously affiliated people also volunteer for nonreligious organizations.

“You could say it is a common kind of affiliative, prosocial, service orientation ― finding ways to feel compassion and to serve others is a teaching of all faiths,” Idler said.