Research Shows That People of Faith Are Happier Than Those Without

Maina Mwaura | Contributor | Updated: Feb 08, 2024
Research Shows That People of Faith Are Happier Than Those Without

Research Shows That People of Faith Are Happier Than Those Without

Happiness can be seen as subjective for many. However, for author Arthur Brooks, it's clear that happiness is something that everyone can attain especially people of faith. In a rare sit-down interview with Christian Headlines and Crosswalk, Brooks makes the case on why and how to achieve happiness in a ever-changing culture and times that we live in.

Brooks, who isn't shy about his faith connects the dots that having a relationship with God is not only paramount for his life, but needs to be central for everyone in achieving and understanding happiness.

CH: What do you enjoy about studying the topic of happiness?

Brooks: At its core, the science of happiness is about human behavior and principles for improving our lives. As a social scientist, the topic is endlessly fascinating since it provides a unique lens into our natural inclinations—and, importantly, how we can overcome our earthly urges to live fuller, more virtuous lives.

Yet on a personal and spiritual level, it also has great benefits: I have become a happier person since devoting my life to the science of happiness, and it’s interesting to see how the social science findings follow Biblical wisdom. For example, research points toward the power of love for boosting happiness—across our faith, family, friends and work—which closely follows how scripture speaks of love.

CH:  Do you consider yourself a happy person?

Brooks: I consider myself a happier person–happier than I used to be.

For ten years I was the president of a large think tank in Washington, D.C., a job that I enjoyed but brought unique stresses to my life. When I stepped down, I followed my wife’s advice and returned to academia to teach the science of happiness—a little selfishly, perhaps, to improve my own happiness.

To my great relief, it worked: Across the last four years of teaching happiness principles, I have become a better husband, father, grandfather, and friend. I have put in a lot of work to manage my unusually high negative emotions and to improve my relationships. The science has been a great blessing to me.

CH: How can we help people find their true passion and calling in living out a fulfilling life?

Brooks: Living a fulfilling life begins and ends with four main pillars: faith, family, friends, and work. To help people lead a fulfilling life, the first three pillars are essential. As churchgoers, it is our duty to live a life of faith and to teach the scripture to anyone who will listen.

We should also raise our children to respect and enjoy the bonds of family and friends, especially because research shows it is almost impossible to be happy without these loving relationships.

Alternatively, helping others find their passion and calling largely centers around the “work” pillar. Research shows that those who are happiest in their jobs—and who have high passion and calling—generally have a job in which they earn their success and serve others.

This can take many shapes and forms: I have met bank regulators who feel that their job deeply helps the economically disadvantaged, and I have met custodians who take serious pride in their labor. For young people who are searching for a passion, we should urge them to pursue a career in which they feel they are doing societal good, and, importantly, a career in which their hard work is rewarded.

CH: You've been open regarding your faith journey. How important is faith to you?

Brooks: My Christian faith is the single most important aspect of my life. I go to Catholic Mass every day (and when I’m not on the road, I go with my wife). I pray each day with my wife, and the principles of my faith guide my actions with friends, family, colleagues, and strangers.

I lead a very busy life, so I find that my faith helps to remind me who I truly am: God’s beloved child. It also helps me to submit to His will during trying times.

CH: Is there any connection to people who are happy and have faith as part of their daily lives?

Brooks: Definitely. Time and again, research finds that people with a religious worldview are less anxious, less depressed, score higher on life satisfaction, have higher meaning in life, have higher self-esteem, and are better able to cope with negative life events.

These numbers increase if a person has frequent religious observance—that is, if they go to church once a week and pray daily. Moreover, those who belong to a church tend to have stronger familial and community ties, and children raised in religious households tend to score higher on mental health metrics than children raised in a secular environment.

CH:  You recently wrote a book with Oprah Winfrey. What was that experience like?

Brooks: It was a wonderful experience to get a call, out of the blue, from Oprah Winfrey. As it turned out, Oprah was a regular reader of my weekly column in The Atlantic, and she wanted to team up to bring the happiness science to a larger audience.

So, over the course of many months, she and I set out to write Build the Life You Want.

It’s no secret that Oprah and I are very different people. I’m a university professor who writes, speaks, and teaches; she is of course a global icon who has spent most of her life in the media. But, interestingly, as we spent time together we realized that in our very different lives, we have the same mission: To lift people up in bonds of love and happiness.

It is in that spirit that we wrote the book, and it was one of the most exciting experiences of my professional life. I’m very happy to say that I’ve made a great friend.

CH: What do you enjoy about the writing process?

Brooks: The writing process is very personal to me. I’m in the business of ideas, and any idea comes from serious contemplation. I find that writing is the best way to marshal my thoughts, deepen and broaden my arguments, and to explain my ideas on a larger scale.

Almost every morning, I spend about three uninterrupted hours at my desk writing. It’s a great way to begin my day. Oftentimes, I find myself in a flow state—the three hours feel like three minutes.

CH: Author David Brooks recently told me that our world has become meaner and angrier. How can we turn the tide around as people of faith?

Brooks: David Brooks makes this argument very eloquently. He tends to think that our meanness and anger are mostly due to the abandonment of moral education, and I sadly believe that to be true. Thankfully, people of faith should not see this as an unsolvable problem—but instead as an opportunity.

To make the culture less mean and angry, we must make people more trusting and loving. This starts with first acting more trusting and loving ourselves. But it also requires a stronger effort to teach these virtues.

We should teach our children or our mentees the virtues and wisdom outlined in the gospel—for example, we must love our neighbors, regardless of our differences. Our political opinions, race, class, or gender should have no bearing on the radical love we teach to our youth. In forwarding a stronger moral education, we will see the culture improve.

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Prostock-Studio

Research Shows That People of Faith Are Happier Than Those Without