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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Does Religion Make Us Happy?

In a previous post ("Networks and Religion: Ties That Build Up") I noted that people who regularly attend worship services tend to be happier, live longer, and enjoy better health, and a primary reason is because regular attenders are much more likely to be embedded in robust social networks than are those who worship sporadically or not at all.

By a happy coincidence, this is the subject of a recent Freakonomics podcast ("Does Religion Make You Happy?"). It was prompted by a question from a listener who asked whether someone would be happier if rather than tithing to their church, they'd be happier if they kept more of it for themselves:
Being devout Southern Baptists my parents have steadfastly been giving 10% of their income to the church their whole lives. I recently voiced my opinion that I thought that was too [much to] give, and my parents and I got into an argument.
After a little back-and-forth, my parents conceded tithing at 10% may not be the exact amount ‘God’ expects, but my mother said something that stuck with me. She said the 10% they give to the church makes them happier than anything else they spend money on.
I’ve read that people who go to religious institutions consistently are happier than their counterparts. The economist inside me says that money (not given to the church) would make a non-tither happier, all things equal. So, will exchanging 10% of your income for the right to participate in a religious congregation statistically increase or decrease your happiness?
Not only does the podcast look at a fascinating study on religion and happiness by Jonathan Gruber, an economist at MIT, it also interviews a friend of mine, Larry Iannaccone, who is an economist at Chapman University. The podcast lasts about 30 minutes and can be downloaded from iTunes. You can also listen to it at the Freakonomics website ("Does Religion Make You Happy?") where you can also find the audio transcript.

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