• Wayne Chasney

Can Going to Church Make You Happier?

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2)


Monroeville native, and Rhodes Scholar, Adam Mastroianni writes a popular blog titled, “Experimental History.” Here Adam, who has a PhD in psychology from Harvard, reflects on science with humor and insight and often gives me something to think about. In his latest post, Adam asks, “Why aren’t smart people happier?”


Looking at the latest research, it’s true. High scores on intelligence tests or SAT’s does not necessarily mean you are happier? In fact, looking at one study, people who scored higher on a vocabulary test were “a tiny bit less happy.” Go figure.


So what’s going on? Why aren’t high performing test takers happier? Shouldn’t smarts help us better navigate life? This is the part that caught my attention.


High performance test takers are good at what Adam calls “well-defined problems.” That’s what tests test. Well-defined problems have clear boundaries and tend to be straight-forward. You can apply formulas to discover the answer and most times there is an answer. For example, Adam says, “Matching a word to its synonym, finding the area of a trapezoid, putting pictures in the correct order—all common tasks on IQ tests—are well-defined problems.”


Life, however, is not just about well-defined problems. Everything from “how do I live a life I like” to “how do you host a good party” falls into the category Adam calls, “poorly defined problems” and these require a totally different skill set.


That got me thinking about the role of the church and religion in general. A vibrant life of faith can help us with life’s poorly defined problems. What’s my purpose? What to I value and how do I live out those values? What’s really important to me? In the hustle and bustle of daily living, those questions get pushed aside and the decisions we make about raising our kids and spending our money and yelling at the car in front of us going 40 in a 55 zone are reactive instead of proactive. They don’t always reflect the best of who we can be, and they don’t make us happy.


An intentional relationship with God and the willingness to reflect on the ancient wisdom of the Bible can help us with life’s poorly defined problems. The teachings of faith can help us clarify our values and recognize our purpose. And there is research suggesting religious individuals are on average happier and more satisfied with life than non-religious individuals. Imagine that.


“Happy are those,” says the first Psalm, who delight in God and seek God’s ways. So maybe going to church really can make you happier.


If you are interested, you can check out Adam’s blog HERE.

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