A new study links believing in hell, and perhaps even thinking about it, with lower levels of happiness and satisfaction in life.
Fire, brimstone, eternal suffering — hell is not a pleasant concept. But research has pointed to the societal benefits of a belief in supernatural punishment, including higher economic growth in developing countries and less crime.
But there are also drawbacks, even in this life. A new study links believing in hell, and perhaps even thinking about it, with lower levels of happiness and satisfaction in life.
"It seems there is this trade-off," said Azim Shariff, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Oregon.
In research published in January in PLOS ONE, Shariff and a colleague looked at international survey data to see how belief in heaven and hell affected people's daily emotional states, along with a more long-term measure, life satisfaction. [8 Ways Religion Impacts Your Life]
Because many, but not all people believe in both heaven and hell simultaneously, Shariff and Lara Aknin of Simon Frasier University in British Columbia focused on those who believe in one but not the other. In the vast majority of cases, this meant people who believed in heaven unchecked by hell.
Looking at survey data from 63 countries, the researchers found that the more a belief in heaven outstripped a belief in hell in a country, the happier and more satisfied the residents were. When researchers looked at individual responses, they found a similar pattern — people who believe in heaven reported greater satisfaction with life.
The survey data came from the Gallup World Poll, the World Values Survey and the European Values Survey. Of the 63 nations surveyed, Christianity or Islam dominated in all but eight. However, an analysis of individual responses found no meaningful difference in this pattern of belief and life satisfaction between members of Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and those of non-Abrahamic religions.
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