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Does religion make us happier? Meaning, fulfillment, purpose all play role

Being happy or experiencing happiness is a common theme throughout American society. People are always searching for that one thing—or several things—that can bring them happiness. We search for it, pay for it and try countless new things, all in an effort to attain that elusive feeling.

But are we missing the point?

A recent study in “Psychology Science” looked at the role of wealth and meaning in life for people in more than 130 nations. The study found that wealthy nations had substantially higher levels of life satisfaction; however, “meaning in life was higher in poor nations than in wealthy nations.” The reason? Part of it was related to the fact that poorer nations were more religious.

So the age-old question was asked again: Does religion make people happier?

Dr. Scott Moats, vice president for Academic Affairs and provost at Crown College in Minnesota, believes the answer is a bit more complicated that just a simple yes or no. The answer includes, at least in part, a person’s outlook on life.

“Why do I have a positive outlook on life?” he said. “It’s not because I think the world is getting better. It’s not because there is no crime and evil in the world. It’s only because I believe in a God who has the ultimate say in what happens in the world. And because of that, I can have a positive outlook. And because of that, I can live a happier life.”

For many Christians, being “happy” or feeling a sense of “happiness” also includes a notion of fulfillment, purpose and faith.

“It’s truly about faith,” Moats said. “My faith is real to me, and it increases my sense of purpose. It increases my sense of impact that I’m making in the world, and it increases my sense of efficacy in what I’m trying to accomplish because God has called me to do this task.”

When these are incorporated, that elusive feeling of happiness might be more attainable.

Jesus talked a lot about suffering and persecution and denying ourselves. But He also talked about an “abundant life” and experiencing life to the fullest. Moats believes Jesus wasn’t addressing just happiness here, but something deeper, something everyone experiences.

“I think [Jesus] was talking about that yearning that all mankind has about fulfillment,” he said. “I don’t think He was talking about ‘I’m going to wake up happy every morning.’ I really don’t. There comes a sense of congruence when you believe that what you have been uniquely designed for and what you are doing come together in a way that is synergistic. That, in my mind, is a deeper sense of fulfillment.”

Some have argued that a sense of happiness in Christians can lead to evangelistic opportunities. People see Christians in a positive light—happy and fulfilled—and they may be more inclined to inquire about their faith, so the argument goes.

Moats sees it a bit differently.

“I think God meets us all at different times and different places,” he said. “[What works in evangelism is] when my neighbor is struggling and my neighbor sees me struggling … and I come through it in a way that I can still manage, even though I’m grief stricken, I can still manage life. And they go ‘Wow, what’s different about him?’”

To read the study in its entirety, visit http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/12/13/0956797613507286.abstract.

 

— by Scott Noble

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