21 September 2015

If you want to be cheerful…

happyThis morning on the Today programme (BBC Radio 4) there was an item on a new course by the Dalai Lama on how to find happiness. It put me in mind of a couple of news stories I read over the summer.

The first was in The Times (5 August, p.15), with the headline ‘If you want to be cheerful…go to church’. It reported the findings of a survey of 10,000 people over 50 years of age from across Europe. The research was conducted by scientists from the London School of Economics and published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Over 4 years, researchers looked at participation in volunteering, education, sports, social clubs, political organisations, and religious organisations. This participation was correlated with indicators of mental health (depressive symptoms, sleep quality, appetite). On the downside, for those into political engagement, participation in a political organisation definitely made peoples lives more unhappy. Religious activity was the only intervention (of all the activities) to make a positive difference to a person’s mental well-being over time. That’s not surprising to me, and there are good theological reasons why that would be the case. But it’s still very interesting to see it concluded from a large and careful research study.

Just as interesting was another story that appeared in Third Way (‘Happy clappy’, May 2015, p.5). This reported on work by the UK Office of National Statistics over 3 years, measuring personal well-being. The data showed that Christians are happier than people from other religious groups, followed by Jewish people, people of no religion, then Muslims and Buddhists (the Dalai Lama might have his work cut out). There are probably all kinds of socio-economic factors at play here too, but nevertheless Christians and Jewish people are most likely to report feeling that the things that they do in life are worthwhile. Muslims and those with no religion are the least likely.

There’s a perception in the Scottish Highlands, and probably elsewhere too, that following Christianity is joyless and that the Church is a kill-joy. It’s good to see some hard data (as well as our own experience) contradicting that.