RELIGIOUS Britons are “significantly happier” than atheists and non-religious people, new research has revealed.
People for whom religion is an important part of their identity “are also more optimistic and more resilient than atheists and non-religious people,” the study commissioned by the research forum Institute for the Impact of Faith in Life (IIFL) showed.
There was a statistical association between religious background having less importance in one’s personal identity and a lower likelihood of reporting positive mental health outcomes, it found.
Among those who reported that their religious background was important to their personal identity, 73 per cent said that their psychological well-being was in generally good condition over the three months leading up to the survey. This dropped to 55 per cent for those who said their religious background was unimportant to their personal identity.
A little more than 2,000 people participated in the UK-wide survey, conducted by TechneUK between September 29 and October 8.
Some 70 per cent of the respondents who identified themselves as Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist said their psychological well-being was in good shape, compared to 49 per cent of atheists.
Three quarters (76 per cent) of people who attached importance to their religious background for their personal identity reported they were happy. This dropped by 18 percentage points for those who said that their religious background was unimportant.
According to England & Wales Census 2021, 46.2 per cent of the population identified themselves as Christian, a sharp drop from 71.7 per cent in 2001. Some 6.5 per cent of residents or 3.9 million people said they were Muslim, up from 4.9 per cent or 2.7 million people in 2011. The number of Hindus hit the one million mark, representing 1.7 per cent of the population as per the most recent census. England and Wales are home to 524,000 Sikhs, 273,000 Buddhists and 271,000 Jews.
The IIFL research suggested that religiosity and spirituality could have a positive impact on mental health and psychological well-being.
The evidence pointed towards the possibility of attending religious services providing “an organic sense of belonging and rootedness which are foundational to positive forms of mental health and psychological well-being,” it said
“The value of community spirit and civic-mindedness in this context should not only be underestimated – it should be further explored in terms of producing practical and sustainable solutions which are designed to combat loneliness and social isolation in modern Britain”.
Senior research associate Rakib Ehsan who authored the report, said, “Britain is a curious mix of being a society that has become more secular but also more religiously diverse. While the fast-paced secularisation of the British mainstream has been cited as a form of social progress, this appears not to be the case from the perspective of mental health.
“Compared to non-believers, religious Britons are more likely to report good psychological well-being, satisfaction with life, and optimism over their personal future. They are also more likely to say they are confident with handling the challenges that come with life.
“While it may be considered unfashionable and outdated, the sense of belonging and purpose that can be provided through religious and spiritual forms of attachment and membership should be better explored by policymakers and practitioners in the sphere of mental health.”