Happiness and Religion

The relationship between religion and happiness has been the focus of much research. The present review provides a critical examination of this research and, in particular, focuses on conceptual and methodological concerns. The majority of studies report a positive association between measures of religion and happiness; however, contradictory findings are common. This is exemplified in the literature that has systematically employed the Francis Scale of Attitude toward Christianity alongside two different measures of happiness among a variety of samples. Two opposing conclusions have found consistent support. Research with the Oxford Happiness Inventory has consistently found religiosity to be associated with happiness, while research employing the Depression–Happiness Scale has consistently found no association. It is argued that such contradictions may reflect both conceptual and methodological weaknesses in this literature. More: Religion and happiness: Consensus, contradictions, comments and concerns

A number of recent studies have consistently reported a positive association between religiosity and happiness, when happiness is operationalised in terms of the Oxford Happiness Inventory and religiosity is operationalised in terms of the Francis Scale of Attitude toward Christianity. However, this general finding is not consistent across other measures of either construct. The present aim was to examine the generalisability of the link between religion and happiness using the Francis Scale and the Depression-Happiness Scale. Among two samples (Anglican priests and members of the Anglican Church), no significant associations were found between scores on the religiosity and happiness measures. Further research is now required to clarify the components of happiness that are associated with the Francis Scale. See: Religion and Happiness: Still no association

Religious believers often say that their religion makes them happy and that this is one of the reasons for them remaining loyal to their religion. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was distraught by this, blurting out that no-one should “regard a doctrine as true merely because it makes people happy… happiness and virtue are no arguments“. But even more unfortunately, it happens that across the world, religious countries are still unhappy. More: Does Belief Make You Happy Or Does Unhappiness Make You Believe?

Pew Research Center study shows:

Studies have often credited religion with making people healthier, happier and more engaged in their communities. But are religiously active people better off than those who are religiously inactive or those with no religious affiliation? The short answer is that there is some evidence that religious participation does make a difference in some – but not all – of these areas, according to a new Pew Research Center report that looks at survey data from the United States and more than two dozen other countries. See: Are religious people happier, healthier?

Another Pew Research Center study shows:

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, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of survey data from the United States and more than two dozen other countries.

Religiously active people also tend to smoke and drink less, but they are not healthier in terms of exercise frequency and rates of obesity. Nor, in most countries, are highly religious people more likely to rate themselves as being in very good overall health – though the U.S. is among the possible exceptions. See: Religion’s Relationship to Happiness, Civic Engagement and Health Around the World

Eastern religions

Buddhism

Tibetan Buddhist monk

Happiness forms a central theme of Buddhist teachings. For ultimate freedom from suffering, the Noble Eightfold Path leads its practitioner to Nirvana, a state of everlasting peace. Ultimate happiness is only achieved by overcoming craving in all forms. More mundane forms of happiness, such as acquiring wealth and maintaining good friendships, are also recognized as worthy goals for lay people (see sukha). Buddhism also encourages the generation of loving kindness and compassion, the desire for the happiness and welfare of all beings.

Hinduism

In Advaita Vedanta, the ultimate goal of life is happiness, in the sense that duality between Atman and Brahman is transcended and one realizes oneself to be the Self in all.

Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutras, wrote quite exhaustively on the psychological and ontological roots of bliss.

Confucianism

The Chinese Confucian thinker Mencius, who had sought to give advice to ruthless political leaders during China’s Warring States period, was convinced that the mind played a mediating role between the “lesser self” (the physiological self) and the “greater self” (the moral self), and that getting the priorities right between these two would lead to sage-hood. He argued that if one did not feel satisfaction or pleasure in nourishing one’s “vital force” with “righteous deeds”, then that force would shrivel up (Mencius, 6A:15 2A:2). More specifically, he mentions the experience of intoxicating joy if one celebrates the practice of the great virtues, especially through music.

Abrahamic religions

Judaism

Main article: Happiness in Judaism

Happiness or simcha (Hebrew: שמחה‎) in Judaism is considered an important element in the service of God. The biblical verse “worship The Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs,” (Psalm 100:2) stresses joy in the service of God. A popular teaching by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, a 19th-century Chassidic Rabbi, is “Mitzvah Gedolah Le’hiyot Besimcha Tamid,” it is a great mitzvah (commandment) to always be in a state of happiness. When a person is happy they are much more capable of serving God and going about their daily activities than when depressed or upset.

Roman Catholicism

The primary meaning of “happiness” in various European languages involves good fortune, chance or happening. The meaning in Greek philosophy, however, refers primarily to ethics.

In Catholicism, the ultimate end of human existence consists in felicity, Latin equivalent to the Greek meudaimonia, or “blessed happiness”, described by the 13th-century philosopher-theologian Thomas Aquinas as a Beatific Vision of God’s essence in the next life.

According to St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, man’s last end is happiness: “all men agree in desiring the last end, which is happiness.” However, where utilitarians focused on reasoning about consequences as the primary tool for reaching happiness, Aquinas agreed with Aristotle that happiness cannot be reached solely through reasoning about consequences of acts, but also requires a pursuit of good causes for acts, such as habits according to virtue. In turn, which habits and acts that normally lead to happiness is according to Aquinas caused by laws: natural law and divine law. These laws, in turn, were according to Aquinas caused by a first cause, or God.

According to Aquinas, happiness consists in an “operation of the speculative intellect”: “Consequently happiness consists principally in such an operation, viz. in the contemplation of Divine things.” And, “the last end cannot consist in the active life, which pertains to the practical intellect.” So: “Therefore the last and perfect happiness, which we await in the life to come, consists entirely in contemplation. But imperfect happiness, such as can be had here, consists first and principally in contemplation, but secondarily, in an operation of the practical intellect directing human actions and passions.”

Human complexities, like reason and cognition, can produce well-being or happiness, but such form is limited and transitory. In temporal life, the contemplation of God, the infinitely Beautiful, is the supreme delight of the will. Beatitudo, or perfect happiness, as complete well-being, is to be attained not in this life, but the next.

A man making dua [supplicating]

A man making dua [supplicating]

Islam

Main Articles: The Alchemy of Happiness, The Alchemy of Happiness by Mohammed Al Ghazzali (The Book),

Al-Ghazali (1058–1111), the Muslim Sufi thinker, wrote “The Alchemy of Happiness”, a manual of spiritual instruction throughout the Muslim world and widely practiced today.

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