A belief in God could lead to a more contented life,
Religious people are better able to cope with shocks
such as losing a job or divorce, claims the study presented
to a Royal Economic Society conference.
Data from thousands of Europeans revealed higher levels
of "life satisfaction" in believers.
However, researcher Professor Andrew Clark said other
aspects of a religious upbringing unrelated to belief
may influence future happiness.
This is not the first study to draw links between religion
and happiness, with a belief among many psychologists
that some factor in either belief, or its observance,
Professor Clark, from the Paris School of Economics,
and co-author Dr Orsolya Lelkes from the European Centre
for Social Welfare Policy and Research, used information
from household surveys to analyse the attitudes of Christians
- both Catholic and Protestant - not only to their own
happiness, but also to issues such as unemployment.
Their findings, they said, suggested that religion could
offer a "buffer" which protected from life's disappointments.
Professor Clark said: "We originally started the research
to work out why some European countries had more generous
unemployment benefits than others, but our analysis suggested
that religious people suffered less psychological harm
from unemployment than the non-religious.
"They had higher levels of life satisfaction".
Purpose of life
Even though churchgoers were unsurprisingly more likely
to oppose divorce, they were both less psychologically
affected by marital separation when it did happen, he
"What we found was that religious people were experiencing
current day rewards, rather than storing them up for the
However, he said that the nature of the surveys used
meant that undetected factors, perhaps in the lifestyle
or upbringing of religious people, such as stable family
life and relationships, could be the cause of this increased
The precise contribution of religion to mental health
remains controversial, although there is other evidence
that it does directly improve happiness, said Professor
Leslie Francis, from the University of Warwick.
He said that the benefit might stem from the increased
"purpose of life" felt by believers.
He said: "These findings are consistent with other studies
which suggest that religion does have a positive effect,
although there are other views which say that religion
can lead to self-doubt, and failure, and thereby have
a negative effect.
"The belief that religion damages people is still in
the minds of many."
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society,
which represents the interests of atheists and agnostics,
said that studies purporting to show a link between happiness
and religion were "all meaningless".
"Non-believers can't just turn on a faith in order to
be happy. If you find religious claims incredible, then
you won't believe them, whatever the supposed rewards
in terms of personal fulfilment.
"Happiness is an elusive concept, anyway - I find listening
to classical music blissful and watching football repulsive.
"Other people feel exactly the opposite. In the end,
it comes down to the individual and, to an extent, their