A few days ago, I posted about a Gallup poll which said that religious Americans have a statistically significantly higher level of wellbeing than nonreligious Americans.
Jeff at the blog Inquiry, Blasphemy, and Magic Missiles offers a different take on the results and explains why they may be misleading:
I would argue that those of us under the “Atheist” subgroup may be higher than the general non-religious group. Now this isn’t an entirely unfounded claim… an Atheist tends to have a few general traits that are indicative of higher well-being.
First off, most of us have gone through a long process of deciding our stance on religion and have a strong, intrinsically discovered set of beliefs. People who have been given a choice tend to display a wide array positive behaviors and emotions.
As a disclaimer to that, the same would be said for the Very religious who have questioned their beliefs and arrived to this sort of conclusion — the presence of choice tends to make people more comfortable in their convictions.
Second, there is the presence of identity. There are many psychological theories of identity, but in general, people who have a strong sense of who they are and what they believe score extremely high on measures of well-being and other positive emotions and behaviors…
What does this mean? Well, it is likely that the majority of “non-believers” and “moderates” have not gone through any of these long periods of identity achievement or self discovery (or they are still in the process of this). People who are going through this process still have slightly higher scores on the associated measures than people who are not going through the process, but it is still nowhere near those who have run the track and finished…
One of the most frustrating things about demographic studies is that atheists, agnostics, non-theists, and “nones” are often lumped together when there are differences between the groups.
“Non-religious” applies to a large number of people who wouldn’t identify as atheists, so keep that in mind when you’re looking at any poll.