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Behold, we count them happy

Jacob Moreton

Being religious can increase your chance of happiness, new findings have found.

Catherine Sanderson, a psychology professor at Amherst College, Massachusetts, claims that religious people are the most likely social group to find lasting happiness. Her lecture series 'Positive Psychology: The science of happiness' argues that religious beliefs 'give people a sense of meaning.' It also gives them a 'sense of well-being or comfort,' she says.

Sanderson's claims are supported by other senior academics. 'Here in the US, of those who are not at all religiously engaged, 27 per cent have said they're very happy ... compared to 48 per cent who are engaged in religious activities or worship more than once a week,' says David Myers of Hope College, Michigan.

Furthermore, the benefits of a religious lifestyle are not limited to happiness. The author Daniel Buettner has spent several years researching human lifespan, discovering where people live longer than average, and why. Most of his results concentrate on longevity in Italy or Japan but one group in the US has an enviable life extension over the rest of the nation: Seventh Day Adventists. Adherents of that faith have an average life expectancy of 89, ten years longer than the rest of the US.

Buettner claims that the reasons behind the extended lifespan are fairly simple. 'Their religious beliefs are a big help ... They take this idea of Sabbath very seriously, so they're decompressing the stress,' he said. 'About 84 per cent of health care dollars are spent because of bad food choices, inactivity and unmanaged stress, and they have these cultural ways of managing stress through their Sabbath.'

In addition, he continues, they have a healthy plant-based diet and a 'social network that reinforces the right behaviour.'

This echoes Sanderson's position on happiness. It's less about what you believe than the fact that you have a community, she argues. 'It's the social support network that is fulfilling. You could be working in a soup kitchen or belonging to a neighbourhood watch. It's the sense that we are looking after one another that matters.'