Does religion make you happy?

I recently read Arthur Brooks’ new book, Gross National Happiness. It’s a liberal-conservative version of Richard Layard’s social democratic Happiness: Lessons from a New Science a few years back. Two economists reading the happiness literature and finding it (mostly) supports what they already thought about the world.

One of Brooks’ arguments is that religion is good for happiness (he calls this chapter ‘Happiness is a gift from above’). Certainly the reported statistics are striking, with 43% of those who attend church regularly describing themselves as ‘very happy’, compared to 23% of those who attend church never or rarely.

I had a look at a similar question in the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes 2005, and there is a smaller but still large gap between the proportion of people who go to church one a week or more who are ‘very happy’ (defined as 9-10 on a 0 to 10 happiness scale) and those who never go, 33% to 23%.

Will Wilkinson is, however, critical
of Brooks’ attempts to generalise this beyond the US experience. He points out that very secular European countries have very high happiness scores, and unlike the US they have been getting happier as they secularised.
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