Are atheists really more miserable than the faithful?
Karl Marx called it the opium of the people, a drug to dull the pain of everyday existence, while to others it is the meaning of life itself.
But new analysis of findings from Britain’s national happiness index suggest that religion really can make people more content with their lot.
According to figures published as part of the Office for National Statistics (ONS) “well-being” research programme people, people who say they have no religious affiliation report lower levels of happiness, life satisfaction and self-worth than those who do.
Yet, conversely, non-religious Britons also report lower levels of anxiety than adherents to the main faiths.
The finding emerges from figures which also show a link between age and happiness.
It shows that people’s general sense of well-being peaks in their late 60s and early 70s but falls during their late 70s, gathering pace in their 80s and 90s.
Most strikingly, it highlights how middle aged people are the most stressed, least happy and least content of all.
Those celebrating their 45th birthday should beware that they could be entering a decade of gloom with the lowest scores for happiness and life satisfaction and highest levels of anxiety of any age group.
The ONS singled out the deterioration in happiness and general well-being among older retired people as a particular “challenge” for the Government, NHS and social care providers given the ageing population.
Under the programme, now in its fifth year, a sample of the UK population are asked to rate their lives on a scale of nought to 10.
Participants are asked four separate questions: how satisfied they are with their lives overall; whether they feel that what they do is worthwhile; how happy they were the previous day and how anxious they were the previous day.
The figures are then analysed by age, geography, employment and marital status as well as religion.
A typical Briton scores their life satisfaction as 7.53 out of 10 and their happiness the previous day as 7.38, when the figures over the first four years of the scheme are averaged out.
But those who describe themselves as having no religion typically score their happiness slightly below average, at 7.22 out of 10.
That compares with 7.33 for Muslims and 7.37 for Jewish people, rising to 7.47 for Christians, who were just ahead of Sikhs on 7.45. Hindus topped the happiness table with an average score of 7.57.
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