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UK’s believers likelier to report being happy, study finds

24 November 2023


PEOPLE who follow a faith are more resilient and happier than atheists and other non-religious people, a new study suggests.

The report, Keep the Faith: Mental health in the UK, is published by the Institute for the Impact of Faith in Life (IIFL), a think tank set up to examine the part that faith plays in the lives of people in the UK.

Previous global surveys have shown similar links between happiness and faith, but this latest study is the first to focus on the link between faith and mental health solely in the UK.

The UK is particularly interesting to study, the IIFL says, because it is both increasingly secularised and increasingly religiously diverse. The survey findings suggest that the rapid secularisation of the UK has left many in the UK experiencing declining resilience and well-being.

The study is based on a survey conducted by TechneUK of 2004 adults in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, for ten days at the end of September. Of the respondents who declared a religious affiliation — including Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Muslims, and Hindus — nearly 70 per cent reported good psychological well-being, compared with less than half, 49 per cent, of atheists.

Almost the same figures were recorded for levels of happiness; just nine per cent of people who had a religious affiliation said that they were unhappy, compared with nearly a quarter, 24 per cent, of atheists.

Believers also felt that they had more self-control, more life satisfaction, and were more optimistic about their own future than non-believers.

Only 12 per cent of people with a religious affiliation said that they were pessimistic about the future, compared with 30 per cent of atheists.

The link between faith and mental health needed to be “unlocked” to understand more about the benefits, the study suggested.

Commitment and frequency of religious practice also affected happiness levels. Those who regularly attended religious services were “notably more likely to report positive psychological well-being and mental-health outcomes when compared to those who either occasionally or never attend such services”.

The report says: “The findings also provide much food for thought in terms of how we should view the fast-paced secularisation of mainstream British society and the rise of atheistic tendencies. The ‘de-Christianisation’ of Britain and the increasing levels of those who state that they are of ‘no religion’ could be welcomed as a victory for social progress among liberal secularists who reject the view that faith can be a force for good in modern society.

“However, the data presented in this report suggests that this has potentially left mainstream Britain more exposed and vulnerable in terms of mental resilience and psychological well-being — increasing sections of the population which are less confident over coping with the stresses and pressure of life and more pessimistic over their own futures.”

The author of the study, Dr Rakib Ehsan, said: “Britain is a curious mix of being a society that has become more secular but also more religiously diverse.

“While the fast-paced secularisation of the British mainstream has been cited as a form of social progress, this appears not to be the case from the perspective of mental health.

“Compared to non-believers, religious Britons are more likely to report good psychological well-being, satisfaction with life, and optimism over their personal future. They are also more likely to say they are confident with handling the challenges that come with life.

“While it may be considered unfashionable and outdated, the sense of belonging and purpose that can be provided through religious and spiritual forms of attachment and membership should be better explored by policymakers and practitioners in the sphere of mental health.”

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