How can one lead a pious life

28.06.2000 09:07

Study: Pious People Are Happier

Robert Emmerich Press and public relations
Julius Maximilians University of Würzburg

Are Religious People Happier? Studies are known from the USA and England that suggest a positive connection between happiness and religiosity. In German medical magazines, too, there are reports such as "Pious people live longer" or "Prayer protects against cardiac death". Theologians at the University of Würzburg wanted to find out what to think of such findings.

The Catholic religious educators Prof. Dr. Dr. Hans-Georg Ziebertz and Dr. Boris Kalbheim asked new students from all faculties of the University of Würzburg about their religiosity, their personality and their happiness in life. Prof. Ziebertz: "Statistically, the result is clear: Religious students are happier."

In order to "measure personal happiness in life", the respondents received a detailed list with statements on various areas of life: questions were asked about the meaning of life, social relationships, personal attractiveness, optimism or pessimism about the future, feelings, work life, leisure time, etc. whether the students like the life they lead. The Würzburg theologians adopted this research instrument from psychological research. According to Dr. Kalbheim had a methodical reason for this: "We did not want to influence the respondents with Christian ideas for happiness."

The research results show that about half of the respondents describe themselves as "not happy" and about 40 percent as "happy". Only a minority occupies the extreme fringes "very happy" or "very unhappy". These findings are independent of age or gender.

The scientists also examined the personality of the students. Because if the majority of religious people are extroverted personalities, according to Prof. Ziebertz, then a connection between religiosity and happiness might not be due to religiosity but to personality - "because it has been found that extroverted people are often happier than introverts ". The results made it clear, however, that religious and non-religious people do not differ in terms of their personality. Both are on average equally extroverted or introverted or emotionally unstable or stable.

In order to distinguish religious from non-religious respondents, Prof. Ziebertz and Dr. Kalbheim several research instruments: Questions were asked about church membership, personal religious practice and attitudes towards religion, church, Christian faith and God.

For 15 percent of the students there is no God, for a similarly large group the Christian faith is the only or most important way of knowing God. 70 percent of the students think God is "possible", but see a way to find God in all religions. The students particularly approve of the Christian faith: 56 percent have a rather positive attitude towards Christianity, 20 percent are undecided and 25 percent reject the Christian faith.

The real interest of the study was on the question of whether personal religiosity is a kind of indicator of happiness in life. Membership in the church, a positive attitude towards a number of statements of faith that are typical of the Christian faith, and, in general, the belief in the existence of God, turned out to be "happiness enhancers". "Surprisingly, it turned out that respondents who take the position of 'There is no God' class themselves as significantly less happy than those who believe in God," said Prof. Ziebertz.

Personal religious practice, for example, whether going to church, praying or reading the Bible is preferred, on the other hand, has no significance for the feeling of happiness. The inner attitude towards God and Christianity, including membership in a church, come into consideration as "happiness enhancers". Age, gender or political orientation have no influence on the feeling of happiness.

The researchers also looked at whether theology students were different from other students. But they could not find any differences: the "professional" dealing with religious questions is not the same as personal religiosity. Personal religiosity and piety can be strong or weak - regardless of the subject.

In the opinion of the scientists, the significance of these results lies in the fact that - despite some justified criticism of religion, Christianity and the church - religiosity can be a positive life force on the level of personal life. In addition, the old accusation against Christianity could be refuted that it only cares about the "otherworldly" salvation of man, but not about life in the "here and now": "The hope of eternal life has positive effects on life lived "as the scientists believe. They explain this finding as follows: Not only extroversion, i.e. openness towards other people, but also openness towards God gives people the feeling that their life is worth living.

During the Würzburg university fair JUMAX 2000, the religious educators will present their study on Saturday, July 8th, at 2 p.m. in room SE 36 in the mathematics building on Hubland. Further information: Prof. Dr. Dr. Hans-Georg Ziebertz, Dr. Boris Kalbheim, T (0931) 888-4839, Fax (0931) 888-4840, E-Mail:
[email protected]

Features of this press release:
Society, philosophy / ethics, religion
research results