Based on a comprehensive analysis of survey data from the U.S. and 25 other countries, a Pew Research Center study concludes that people engaged in religious activities tend to be happier and more involved in civic life than their peers. While also throwing some cold water on previous evidence that religious people tend to be healthier, the study does find an overwhelming correlation between religious engagement and refraining from smoking cigarettes or excessive drinking:
This analysis finds that in the U.S. and many other countries around the world, regular participation in a religious community clearly is linked with higher levels of happiness and civic engagement (specifically, voting in elections and joining community groups or other voluntary organizations). This may suggest that societies with declining levels of religious engagement, like the U.S., could be at risk for declines in personal and societal wellbeing. But the analysis finds comparatively little evidence that religious affiliation, by itself, is associated with a greater likelihood of personal happiness or civic involvement. . . .
While the data presented in this report indicate that there are links between religious activity and certain measures of wellbeing in many countries, the numbers do not prove that going to religious services is directly responsible for improving people’s lives. Rather, it could be that certain kinds of people tend to be active in multiple types of activities (secular as well as religious), many of which may provide physical or psychological benefits. Moreover, such people may be more active partly because they are happier and healthier, rather than the other way around. . . .
Whatever the explanation may be, more than one-third of actively religious U.S. adults (36 percent) describe themselves as very happy, compared with just a quarter of both inactive and unaffiliated Americans. Across 25 other countries for which data are available, actives report being happier than the unaffiliated by a statistically significant margin in almost half (twelve countries), and happier than inactively religious adults in roughly one-third (nine) of the countries.
The gaps are often striking: in Australia, for example, 45 percent of actively religious adults say they are very happy, compared with 32 percent of inactives and 33 percent of the unaffiliated. And there is no country in which the data show that actives are significantly less happy than others, although in many countries there is not much of a difference between the actives and everyone else.