But the real meat of this study is its findings on life satisfaction and emotional well-being. Prof. Galen makes the point that previous studies, which often found that higher religiosity is correlated with greater life satisfaction, are methodologically flawed. They treated all the nonreligious as a single group, lumping together strong atheists with people who are doubters, who are unsure, even some who are weak believers. This study clearly differentiates among those groups by correlating people’s confidence in their beliefs – from those who are absolutely certain there is no god to those who are absolutely certain there is – with their self-reported levels of happiness and satisfaction in life.
The relationship that emerged from the data is best described as curvilinear. Rather than a straight line of rising satisfaction linked to increased religious belief, the survey found that the highest life satisfaction was found onboth ends of the spectrum – the confident atheists and the confident theists. The happiness and emotional stability of these two groups were statistically equivalent, exceeding that of the general population. It was the doubters and the seekers, the people in the middle who weren’t sure either way, who were worse off.
I wonder in which direction the causation goes. I wonder if it’s not the uncertainty that leads to unhappiness all the time but whether sometimes the unhappiness leads to uncertainty.