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Americans Who Believe in God, Marriage More Likely to be ‘Very Happy’: Survey

May 1, 2023

In an age of rapidly declining happiness and rising anxiety, those who embrace the biblical values of faith and family are far more likely to thrive, a new secular survey has found.

Faith in God almost perfectly predicts Americans’ level of happiness, according to a Wall Street Journal-NORC poll taken in March: 68% of “very happy” Americans say they believe in God, compared with 47% who say they are “pretty happy” and 42% who are “not happy.”

The role faith plays in enhancing personal tranquility seems worth studying, given the massive plunge in the number of U.S. citizens reporting positive mental health. Only 12% of Americans describe themselves as “very happy,” a massive fall from the historic norms of 28% to 38% since the survey began asking the question 51 years ago. “The 12% was the smallest share of ‘very happy’ people ever recorded in NORC’s General Social Survey, dating to 1972,” reported the Wall Street Journal — down from 32% just five years ago.

Part of the higher rates of well-being may come from the fact that Americans who regularly read the Bible have greater resilience in the face of trials, a separate poll recently concluded. “Scripture engaged” Christians — meaning those who regularly read or listen to the Bible and say its teachings guide their lives — are more determined to persevere through difficulties and seek successful outcomes than “Bible-disengaged” Americans.

“In dealing with the struggles of life, people who engage with the Bible have far more hope than others,” concluded the American Bible Society.

The survey’s results came as no surprise to Bible-believing Christians. “A recent study showed that Americans who read the Bible have ‘far more hope’ than those who don’t. That’s absolutely right. It is ‘a lamp to our feet and a light to our path’ (Psalm 119:105),” said Rev. Franklin Graham, the founder of Samaritan’s Purse. “I encourage you to read and meditate on the truth of the Word of God. I don’t understand it all, but I believe it all — and it can change your life today.”

The two surveys’ results confirm numerous international studies over multiple decades finding that people who actively live out their faith achieve greater levels of contentment than other Americans. A 2019 Pew Research Center report found that Americans who regularly attended services were 44% more likely to say they were “very happy” than the religiously inactive. Active believers were also more likely to be in good health, refrain from drinking (to excess) and smoking (at all), exercise several times a week, belong to non-religious civic organizations, and always vote in elections.

The positive correlation between religious observance, health, and happiness held true in virtually every one of the more than two dozen countries Pew researched. Similarly, the British government found that Christians and Hindus tied for first place in the life satisfaction index, according to a survey “Measuring National Well-being” conducted by the U.K. government’s Office for National Statistics in 2012. Both groups rated significantly ahead of the irreligious.

Those who regularly take part in religious ceremonies live longer, as well, according to a 2017 research paper. Adjusting for health, age, and other facts, “attendance at religious services had a dose-response relationship with mortality, such that respondents who attended frequently had a 40% lower hazard of mortality,” the report concluded.

The impact of prayer, church attendance, and Bible reading pays dividends for years, secular experts say. Having a religious upbringing that exposed them to church services and personal prayer during childhood made people more likely to be happy as adults, according to a 2018 study conducted by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

“[P]eople who attended weekly religious services or practiced daily prayer or meditation in their youth reported greater life satisfaction and positivity in their 20s — and were less likely to subsequently have depressive symptoms, smoke, use illicit drugs, or have a sexually transmitted infection — than people raised with less regular spiritual habits,” reported Harvard. “The results showed that people who attended religious services at least weekly in childhood and adolescence were approximately 18% more likely to report higher happiness as young adults (ages 23-30) than those who never attended services. They were also 29% more likely to volunteer in their communities and 33% less likely to use illicit drugs.”

Childhood prayer also increased the likelihood of adult happiness by 16%, the study discovered.

The positive relationship between faith and joy bodes ill for an increasingly secular West, researchers say.

“[I]n 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),” the Pew Research Center noted. “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 well-being.” 

More than eight out of 10 Americans (81%) believe in God, according to a Gallup poll taken last June — a 6% drop since 2017. The percentage of Americans who score in Gallup’s highest rating of Life Evaluation Index, “thriving,” also fell by 5% since 2017. Just over one in four (28%) of Americans had attended religious services in person over the last month, Pew found last March.

The American Bible Society’s “State of the Bible USA 2023” report found the number of Americans who were scripturally engaged fell by 24 million people since 2020.

Only 39% of Americans rated religion as “very important” to them personally, although 65% said belief in God is very or somewhat important, the WSJ/NORC poll found.

In addition to religion, Americans who call themselves “very happy” also tend to believe in another pillar of traditional values: marriage. A total of 67% of “very happy” people say marriage is very important to them, even if they are not married themselves, compared to 43% of people in general. Politically, the “very happy” are indistinguishable from the general population. Women tend to be far overrepresented among America’s happiest people, and men tend to be underrepresented. Americans 60 and older are also more likely to say they have found joy in life.

The survey’s results confirm the Bible’s teaching: “Happy are the people whose God is the Lord!” (Psalm 144:15).

Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.