The happiest countries have the lowest rates of religiosity
It dawned on me recently, thanks to a reader’s question, that I wanted to know happy atheists are and is a country full of mostly non-believers would be a happy place to live. So, I looked up some statistics on happy countries and happy people in hopes of finding this out. I’ve met loads of happy atheists. I also know happy believers. I was curious though, when applied to the large scale of cities and countries, how much does religion (or lack thereof) play a part in happiness. I found some pretty interesting numbers.
Before I even start this, I want to point out that I CANNOT make the claim that having no religion makes you happier (except for myself… in which case, it’s absolutely true). As I have stated in previous blog posts, research shows that prisons are full of believers and believers tend to be “happier”, but this is due to going to church, not belief in god. I was dogged by many believers for not making a stronger case for the difference between correlation and causation. So… I will now.
I am not claiming religions causes unhappiness or that lack of belief causes happiness. But, as you will see from the research below, there is definitely a strong correlation between happiness in a country and lack of religion. Either happy countries don’t need as much religion or countries with less religion are happier. The big question looms… can a country of mostly atheists be a happy place? You decide for yourself.
I get this correlation by combining two easily found studies. The first is a study done by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development. They polled 30 countries and found
Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands rated at the top of the list, ranking first, second and third, respectively. Outside Europe, New Zealand and Canada landed at Nos. 8 and 6, respectively. The United States did not crack the top 10. Switzerland placed seventh and Belgium placed tenth.
The report looked at subjective well-being, defined as life satisfaction. Did people feel like their lives were dominated by positive experiences and feelings, or negative ones?
To answer that question, the OECD used data from a Gallup World Poll conducted in 140 countries around the world last year. The poll asked respondents whether they had experienced six different forms of positive or negative feelings within the last day.
Some sample questions: Did you enjoy something you did yesterday? Were you proud of something you did yesterday? Did you learn something yesterday? Were you treated with respect yesterday? In each country, a representative sample of no more than 1,000 people, age 15 or older, were surveyed. The poll was scored numerically on a scale of 1-100. The average score was 62.4.
HERE IS A GREAT VISUAL REPRESENTATION OF THIS. So, we know that Denmark, Finland, and the Netherlands are the “happiest” when compared to the others… and the United States isn’t even in the top 10. They don’t associate it to religion. But, “Overall economic health played a powerful role”, says Simon Chapple, senior economist from the Social Policy Division of the OECD, which put together the report. They attribute the results to the economy and to unemployment mostly.
Low unemployment also contributes to happiness. “One thing we know for sure,” says the OECD’s Chapple, “not having a job makes one substantially less satisfied.” Denmark’s unemployment rate is just 2 percent, according the C.I.A.’s World Factbook. Norway‘s is just 2.6 percent. The Netherlands: just 4.5 percent. Many economists concur that a 4 percent unemployment rate reflects a stable economy. The U.S. unemployment rate is currently 9 percent.
What do you think happens when you compare these same countries to a chart showing the amount of religious people in these areas? Surprise, surprise… the top four happiest countries on earth have some of the smallest populations of religious people… between 31% and 34%. You decide for yourself what that means. Switzerland placed seventh and Belgium placed tenth on the happiness scale and both have less than half of their population claiming any kind of religion (48% and 43% respectively).
The United States placed #12 on the list. We have around 15% of the population claiming no religion or atheist. When we look at our Happiest Cities, some interesting things jump out. California came in with cities at #5 (Santa Rosa), #6 (Santa Barbara), and #10 (Ventura). California is around 21% atheist or non-religious. The #1 city on the list? Boulder, Colorado. And, as a state, Colorado boasts a very high 25% non-religious group. So, while unemployment remains a problem across the entire United States, we find our happiest cities dotted across states with a high number of non-religious people. Interesting.
Conclusion – Again, we can’t be certain if these connections are causation or simply correlation. But, even if they are just a correlation, it’s still intriguing to think that so many happy places to live can exist on this earth where such a big % of people don’t rely on god to get their happiness. This should make Christians look at life, morals, happiness, and joy in a different way.
When I first came out as an atheist, I had an employee that asked me, “If you don’t believe in god, or heaven, why do you get up everyday?” What I told him then still rings true today. I responded, “The answer to the question shouldn’t be what concerns you. The fact that the answer isn’t ‘God’ is what’s important.” Tens of millions of us worldwide are “good without god” and that group is growing everyday. I, for one, am happy to be part of it.