Religion and the happiness dividend

Published at February 10, 2019 10:12 PM 0Comment(s)2147views

Suhail Ahmad

Religion and the happiness dividend

Many people consider religion as a source of peace and happiness. In the backdrop of studies which credit religion for making people healthier, happier and more engaged in their communities, the US-based Pew Research Center explored the question whether indeed the religiously active people are better off than those who are religiously inactive or those with no religious affiliation?

The latest Pew Research Center report, published on January 31, suggests that religious participation does make a difference. People who are active in religious congregations tend to be happier and more civically engaged than either religiously unaffiliated adults or inactive members of religious groups, according to the survey data from more than two dozen countries.

Life seems good when we are happy. But realistically speaking, we face problems of varying degrees throughout our lives. Sometimes we are so overwhelmed by them that real happiness seems elusive. Even as different people have different yardsticks of happiness, the basic conditions for a happy life are more or less same. We need good food, clothes and shelter and we need means of income to sustain these needs. We also crave for good health and satisfying companionship. But even those who have a good measure of these things may still long for true happiness.

Sometimes the kind of work a person does or the conditions under which he must work deprive him of satisfaction. Besides, in many families there is a perpetual conflict between husband and wife or between parents and children. Nor can we ignore the possibility of sickness or sudden death. Sometimes it looks impossible to cope with the problems of life and find true happiness. In the state of despair, we forget that for anyone to enjoy a happy life, he first needs a reason to live. This is where religion comes in- it can lend meaning to our often erratic lives.

A person lives satisfactorily as long as he experiences his life as having meaning and value and of course as long as he has something to live for. As soon as meaning and hope disappears from a person's life, he stops living. This may also help to explain why many of the wealthy are not really satisfied. They have all the pleasures and comforts life has to offer. But then they realize there must be more to life.

Similarly, long life can also not ensure happy life. Many elderly persons know from experience that a long life without a feeling of accomplishment or of being needed is frustrating. The worldwide pattern of suicide cases shows that more and more youth are unhappy and have given up on life. Many years back, a Japanese university conducted survey, revealing that "the meaninglessness of life" was first among the reasons for suicides.

The disturbing rise in the number of drug addicts among youth can be understood in similar context. We ourselves may not feel so worried and desperate. We may find that some degree of happiness is possible despite all our problems. Still all of us crave for more happiness. We just don’t seem to have enough of this world.

Our lives would have real meaning and happiness if we could begin to understand the key questions of our existence. It is logical that if there is a God, He would know why we are here, how we are supposed to spend our lives and where we would be going next. And He would know what we can do to make our lives more meaningful and happy.

As we learn about the Almighty by observing His creation and reading Holy Quran, it becomes evident that humans were not created to live independent of Him. We were created to have a relationship with Allah, from whom we have received life and whose daily provisions sustain our lives. Trying to be independent of Him may be compared to a person's trying to find his way through an unknown and forbidding terrain. In due course he may get completely lost and die. It is similar when humans omit Allah and his guidance from their lives. To enjoy life, we need more than food, clothing and shelter. For us to be truly happy, we need constant guidance and help from our creator.

Back to the Pew Research Center findings, social activity seems to be a key driver of well-being among religiously active people. Besides, as the researchers argue, virtues promoted by religion, such as compassion, forgiveness and helping others, may improve happiness and even physical health. Religion encourages supernatural beliefs that can help people deal with stress and benefit their psychological well-being. Religion as a key “stress buffering” mechanism may help people deal with difficult events and manage suffering in their lives.


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