If you search through atheist / skeptic blogs that reported on these studies you’ll find a few that are quite angered by the results, or are skeptical about their veracity, and/or try to come up with various ways to either justify or explain away the result. They are wasting their time. in their excitement they lost sight of their scientific side. You see, by only reading about the result one isn’t getting the entire picture. The devil is in the details… that is the actual statistics..
I had some difficulty finding the raw stats from either study, but managed to find this chart which gives summary stats. Note that on the “0-10” axis “0” means “Dissatisfied” and 10 means “Very Happy” with ones life.
While the differences aren’t dramatic, indeed believers and the most religious do have a higher percentage (approx 42%) of people who say they are “Very happy” with their lives, the highest happiness range, than do those describing themselves as atheists (approx 37%).
You’ll also note the most religious also have the most (approx. 17%) who are in the “Dissatisfied with life” column compared to atheists (approx 15%); while in the middle ranges…the “Satisfied / Happy with life” ranges … approx 49% of atheists are represented versus only 42% of believers.
BUT, and here is the clincher, when you take the “Satisfied/Happy” and “Very Happy” combined stats, the most religious score 84% combined while atheists score 86% combined.
So what exactly does this mean? It means that while 5% more religionists report being “Very Happy” with their lives than do atheists, on an overall positive life scoring atheists are generally more satisfied with their lives. To corroborate these findings, here is the charted result of a World Values Survey which also gauged religiosity and happiness.
Once again, the most religious people (those saying religion is very important to them) report being “Very Happy” more frequently than do people who hold religion of no importance. But on the combined happiness scale of “Very” and “Quite” happy, the most religiously afflicted score 81% while least religious (which includes atheists, agnostics, skeptics and humanists) scored 86%.
Ok, so bottom line – the more religious one is the more frequently they consider themselves “Very Happy” than do non-religious/non-believers. But on an aggregate happiness / satisfaction quotient, they are not only NOT generally happier than atheists they are slightly less so.
Should we be surprised that religious fanatics report being ecstatic about their lives more frequently than secularists? Frequent church attendence, the group dynamic of a shared myth/ self induced spiritual experience, will have a positive effect on the sense of comfort and happiness of these dependent people. Additionally the less one is forced to focus on reality, and can ignore it; the less they feel in control of their lives because it is controlled for them by a Sky Daddy -- the less they worry about life. After all, belief that simply by praying -- “God will deliver [insert one or more] a new job / my next meal / a new car / a roof over my head.” -- tends to take a lot of stress out of ones life; never mind that invariably they are more likely to be chronically unemployed, impoverished, on foot and homeless than an atheist. The annual Pew Forum report on religiosity by state which consistently reports higher crime, teen pregnancy, poverty, unemployment, and the lowest education levels in the most religious states supports this contention.
Finally, when one puts their faith in a god who works in strange and mysterious ways, they are more inclined to accept their lot in life as “God’s Will” and be delighted with it, even if it puts them below the poverty line and their kid’s life span is negatively impacted by their diet or substandard healthcare.
Which brings us to George Bernard Shaw’s famous line: "The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one." I might also point out that the very happiest man in most towns is the village idiot.