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Religious People are the Happiest. Here’s Why

As the holy month of Ramadan revives the spirit of fasting, charity, and contemplation for 2 billion Muslims worldwide, many have come to recognize this month as a representation of the Islamic faith in principle and in practice. While Muslims follow the core Islamic values emphasized in Ramadan throughout the year, these tenets take center stage in a month during which Muslims believe the holy Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). 

Ramadan is an emblem of Islam on an individual level through encouraging self-building, but also on a communal level through promoting a shared identity among Muslims within the larger Ummah. As such, it is worth studying the deeper values behind the faith, examining the role of religion, spirituality, and community in the human quality of life. 

Religion and life satisfaction

Studies have frequently credited religion with making people happier, healthier, and more engaged in their communities. According to a Pew Research Center report, actively religious people are more likely than their less religious peers to consider themselves “very happy” [1]. 

The survey data, which was collected from the United States and over two dozen other countries, also revealed that actively religious people are less likely to smoke and drink compared to those who do not identify with a religious group.

Religion also tends to correlate positively with life satisfaction [3]. Extensive research shows that practicing religious individuals are generally more satisfied with their life and score higher on ‘life of meaning’ than those without religious affiliation [2,4,5]. According to a study conducted among Muslim students at Malaysian universities, religious commitment has also shown positive and significant correlations with self-esteem, positive attitudes, and increasing levels of happiness [6]. 

These findings indicate that the observed life satisfaction is directly tied to regular attendance at religious services and the fostering of social networks in religious congregations [5]. In other words, the sense of community and shared identity is a vital component in the human perception of quality of life. While some studies describe a linear relationship between religiosity and life satisfaction, others point to the role of additional factors in determining the strength of this relationship, such as the degree of community engagement and shared sense of identity [5,7].

Religious affiliation has also been associated with less suicidal behavior, and suicide rates are lower in religious countries compared to secular ones [14]. While some argue that these numbers may be lower in religious nations due to underreporting, studies have confirmed that Muslims have the lowest rates of suicide compared to other religious groups, and that atheists were found to have the highest rates, followed by Buddhists, Christians, and Hindus [15]. 

While religious affiliation does not inherently prevent suicide, a combination of religious identity and community engagement has been found to lessen the chances of suicide attempts due to religion’s emphasis on the value of human life and its divine nature. Lower aggression levels and higher emphasis on morality and virtue among religious individuals also serve as protective factors against suicidal thoughts or tendencies [14,15].

Religion and civic engagement

Studies have also found a link between religiosity and civic engagement, revealing that the actively religious are generally more likely than others to vote. In the United States specifically, 69 percent of the actively religious said they always vote, compared to 48 percent of the unaffiliated [1]. 

Several studies have echoed the idea that religion is the source of much civic engagement, citing American political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville, who saw religious values as the reason people could put self interest aside to embrace community involvement [11]. From this perspective, religion tends to mobilize people to take part in their communities, and also drives them to more actively partake in the societies around them. 

This is partially related to the emphasis that religious teachings place on doing good and helping others, but it also has to do with religious individuals seeking social institutions that more closely reflect their value systems [11]. This is also seen within younger religious groups, who tend to be more concerned with social and public issues compared to their non-religious peers [12]. These observations may also be related to the fact that according to studies, attending private religious schools is associated with the highest levels of academic achievements and positive behavioral outcomes among the three school types: private, charter, and public [13].

The differences between religious and secular groups are even more dramatic when it comes to charity and volunteer work. Religious people in the United States are 25 percentage points more likely than secularists to donate money and 23 points more likely to volunteer time [16]. While 62 percent of religious households report giving to charity, only 46 percent of nonreligious households report the same [17]. 

Charitable giving is a significant part of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, which explains much of these observed trends. In Islam, both charity and the obligatory Khums, or the “Islamic tax” that requires Muslims to give away 20 percent of their annual acquired wealth, are built-in principles meant to ensure that the less fortunate in society are protected and looked after. In the Islamic faith, individualism and selfishness have no place in the heart of a true believer, and there is great emphasis on promoting a culture of social responsibility to ensure no one is left behind. 

Muslims and the belief in oneness 

While non-religious individuals and atheists often make the argument that spirituality – regardless of religious affiliation – is also closely linked to life satisfaction, psychologists have identified ‘oneness’ as the common thread running through spiritual people of all faiths. 

The idea of oneness is characterized by being at one with a divine principle, and several contemporary psychologists have described it as “a personality trait that distinguishes people who seek and make more connections with others, the environment, and their notion of a higher power or God” [8]. Recent studies have confirmed this theory by concluding that oneness beliefs are a significant determinant of life satisfaction over time, which is also linked to better mental and physical health [8,9]. 

Researchers at the University of Mannheim studied the effects of oneness on life satisfaction across religions by surveying 67,000 people in Germany about their religious affiliations and oneness beliefs. The results of this study revealed that among all groups, Muslims had the highest oneness levels and were most likely to believe that they were connected to something larger than themselves [9]. Atheists reported feeling the least connected to others or a higher power. The study results also confirmed a strong link between oneness and life satisfaction, suggesting that oneness beliefs are better predictors of life satisfaction than just religious affiliation. 

Scoring highest on oneness beliefs comes as no surprise to the 2 billion Muslims worldwide who believe in the most important Islamic tenet: ‘Tawhid’, or the oneness of God. This central theme in the Islamic faith is not only a core principle that all Muslims accept, but also holds practical significance in their daily lives. Tawhid can also be described as a spiritual and moral compass that characterizes how Muslims hold themselves accountable before a God who is the epitome of love, mercy, compassion, and justice. 

While many spend their entire lives searching for purpose and meaning in a world with no clear sense of morality or virtue, Muslims adhere to a set of divine truths and moral codes that are objective in nature. The journey to find purpose is also a significant part of Muslims’ faith in practice, but the belief in the oneness of God serves as a guiding light that enlightens the path forward and gives it divine meaning. 

Combined with the value of community and congregation, Muslims’ belief in oneness on an ideological and practical level accounts for much of the observed data on life satisfaction and happiness among them. Similar trends are also seen with people of other faiths who subscribe to a belief system that involves beliefs of oneness. 

As practicing people of faith continue to score high on the various determinants of a healthy mental, spiritual, and social life, perhaps it is time to view religion not as a limiting factor that inhibits happiness, but as one that enables it through a lifestyle that has granted meaning and purpose to the billions of adherents it has.

  2. Berthold A, Ruch W. Satisfaction with life and character strengths of non-religious and religious people: it’s practicing one’s religion that makes the difference. Front Psychol. 2014 Aug 14;5:876. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00876 
  3. Habib DG, Donald C, Hutchinson G. Religion and Life Satisfaction: A Correlational Study of Undergraduate Students in Trinidad. J Relig Health. 2018 Aug;57(4):1567-1580. doi: 10.1007/s10943-018-0602-6. PMID: 29557049. 
  4. Domínguez, R., López-Noval, B. Religiosity and Life Satisfaction Across Countries: New Insights from the Self-Determination Theory. J Happiness Stud 22, 1165–1188 (2021). 
  5. Lim, C., & Putnam, R. D. (2010). Religion, Social Networks, and Life Satisfaction. American Sociological Review, 75(6), 914–933. 
  6. Achour M, Mohd Nor MR, Amel B, Bin Seman HM, MohdYusoff MYZ. Religious Commitment and its Relation to Happiness among Muslim Students: The Educational Level as Moderator. J Relig Health. 2017 Oct;56(5):1870-1889. doi: 10.1007/s10943-017-0361-9.  
  7. Sholihin, Muhammad, Hardivizon, Hardivizon, Wanto, Deri, & Saputra, Hasep. (2022). The effect of religiosity on life satisfaction: A meta-analysis. HTS Theological Studies, 78(4), 1-10. 
  9. Edinger-Schons, L. M. (2019, April 11). Oneness Beliefs and Their Effect on Life Satisfaction. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. Advance online publication. 
  11.  Uslaner, Eric M. “Religion and Civic Engagement in Canada and the United States.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 41, no. 2 (2002): 239–54.
  12. Yuen, Celeste, and Kim H. Leung. 2021. “The role of religion in civic engagement of young people from diverse cultures in Hong Kong.” British Journal of Religious Education 44, no. 1 (April): 98-111.
  13. William H. Jeynes (2012) A Meta-Analysis on the Effects and Contributions of Public, Public Charter, and Religious Schools on Student Outcomes, Peabody Journal of Education, 87:3, 305-335, DOI: 10.1080/0161956X.2012.679542 
  15. Lawrence RE, Oquendo MA, Stanley B. Religion and Suicide Risk: A Systematic Review. Arch Suicide Res. 2016;20(1):1-21. doi: 10.1080/13811118.2015.1004494 

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  • Sarah Katib

    Sarah Katib is a multi-platform journalist who specializes in writing and research on international affairs, contemporary social issues, and Muslim identity in the West.

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