As a bit of background, i first encountered the idea that Christians are happier back in the early 00s when i was first starting out as a Christian. I ran a moderately-successful message board called The Fellowship Hall, and a user by the name of MikeR, whom i’m still in contact with via Facebook, mentioned that i surely had a shine or a glow in my eyes. I forget the exact way he phrased it, but he spoke of it as an actual physical difference between Christians & non-Christians.
As time went on, i received a lot of comments from folks i worked with as well about how happy i always seemed, that i never seemed to have a bad day. During the earliest couple of years, i often wore a wooden cross pin on my work uniform as well, and it was obvious from the comments i received that folks associated my positive attitude with my religion.
When i was a Christian, i believed that i shouldn’t complain. I took to heart what Philippians 4:11 taught: to be content in all things. Whatever trouble i may have been facing, whatever stress i may have had in my life, i did my best not to allow that to effect me. I believed there were big problems in the world than my own personal issues, and so i wore a smile, perfectly content. I won’t lie: the belief that my smallest cares fell into the providence of a loving God certainly made me feel good and added to my happiness.
One thing i noticed, though, is that most other Christians i knew didn’t seem anywhere nearly as content or happy as i was. I know that’s entirely subjective and doesn’t mean anything to anybody else but me, yet it was an observation of mine over several years.
To the point of Stephanie’s question, though, if it does seem as though Christian men are happier than non-Christian men, why would that be so?
I offer the following suggestions:Christianity offers hope. A world without the supernatural is depressing for many; hell, i’ll be the first to admit that naturalistic death scares the shit out of me. I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around the concept of the cessation of existence since my grandmother died nearly two decades ago, and anytime i think about it, i feel terror. Crippling, paralyzing, mind-chilling terror at the thought that some day, i’m going to no longer be.
Christianity, like most religions, offers hope in that area. Christians need not think about depressing things like that: For them, all of the worst aspects of life on the planet are handled happily by a loving God. That’s a load off of their shoulders and certainly could make them seem happier.**Christianity offers absolution of guilt. Humanists, atheists, adherents of karmic religions, and so forth have to live with the guilt of any wrong they may do; Christians, however, believe that the guilt for all of their wrongdoings was taken up by Jesus and that his blood provides the propitiation and absolution for their sins. While they may feel guilt, it’s a guilt tempered by the knowledge that they are secured a place in Heaven, which is sure to make them feel tons better. That may certainly account for any extra happiness seen in Christians. Christianity offers fellowship. Another biggie here is that Christianity is very communal. Spending time with like-minded individuals is a boon for happiness, whether it be at church, a Superbowl party, or a World of Warcraft raid. Spending time with others doing what you love is a great cure for bad attitudes. Christians believe their fellowship is global, and they may exhibit their enjoyment of that anywhere where they may run into others with whom they share faith.
All of that said, i don’t believe that the happiness level of Christians is any sort of proof that Christianity has any sort of merit. If happiness was proof of merit, then why are a variety of recreational drugs still illegal? What about adherents of other religions who find joy? What about the happiness, peace, and joy i’ve found since freeing myself from the yoke of Christianity?
Today, i have friends who are happy. I have friends who are unhappy. I have friends who seek to uplift those around them. I have friends who spend their time focused on negativity, especially in regards to politics.
And what i’ve noticed is that it doesn’t matter whether these people are Christian or atheist, guy or girl, gay or straight, which leads me to believe that there isn’t one right way to find fulfillment or happiness in life. Everyone’s path is going to be different. Obviously, i encourage others to give up the false hope of religion in favor of intellectual freedom, but at the end of the day, so long as their superstitions aren’t being turned into laws to govern me, they are free to believe what they want.
I wish we could all be a little better about giving the world a smile, though. We need more joy. Perhaps desperately.
* My opinions of religion notwithstanding, i think every pastor should take pottery classes, if only to fully appreciate the potter/clay symbolism used in the Bible on an experiential level.
** It is my opinion that honest Christians ought to be most miserable: How can the live joyfully at all with the thought that the majority of folks whom they know and love are going to die and burn for an eternity in Hell? In one book i read which dealt specifically with how folks would be able to find joy at all in Heaven in light of that, the author suggested that in Heaven, there will be no memory of those in Hell! What a farce!