I am currently reading Charles Murray's book Coming Apart. Murray explores how America has changed since November 23, 1963. One area that caught my attention was the correlation of faith to happiness.
Murray defines happiness as "lasting and justified satisfaction with life as a whole." He goes on to explain there are three requirements for achieving happiness: "importance, effort, and responsibility." Finally he boils it all down to four domains where humans can achieve happiness: "family, vocation, community, and faith."
Murray combines surveys taken by General Social Survey from 1990 through 2010. People taking the survey were asked whether they were "not too happy, pretty happy, [or] very happy." They were also asked how frequently they attended religious services. The social scientists were surprised at the correlation between answers to these two questions.
The results showed:
- 49% that attended services more than once a week were very happy
- 41% that attended services weekly were very happy
- 34% that attended services once per month were very happy
- 30% that attended services several times per year were very happy
- 26% that attended services once per year were very happy
- 25% that attended services less than once a year were very happy
- 23% that never attended services were very happy.
One might get the mistaken impression that all you have to do is attend religious services and you will be very happy. As Murray looked deeper, however, he realized that only those that believe and attend achieve this happiness. Those that didn't believe and attended stayed around the 20% number.
The sociologists, who are primarily secular, were trying to find a nonreligious explanation. For instance, they speculated that Christians might be very happy because "they think they are saved and will go to heaven." But those that believed that but only attended services once a year were no happier than those that didn't believe.
In summary, you won't be happy by simply going to church. I am convinced those that attend without believing are convicted of their sin every time they walk into a church, and aren't happy about it at all.
What about you? How often do you attend religious services, and do you believe in what the church teaches? If you don't go very often, or if you go without ever having asked yourself what you really believe, maybe it is time for you to change that. You just may be happier for it.