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Does Belief in Heaven and Hell Impact Happiness?


"religious malevolence"

Hell is a place few people aspire to go after they die -- a spiritual realm that, in the Christian tradition, is described as being devoid of God's presence. And a new study found that a belief in hell could actually lead to a lower level of happiness in life.

Researchers from Simon Frasier University looked at how belief in both theological realms -- heaven and hell -- impacts peoples lives, but focused intensely on those who believe in one spiritual realm over the other, not those who embrace both simultaneously.

Typically, this meant looking at data from individuals who believe in a heaven that is unchecked by hell, as Live Science reported.

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In the study titled, "The Emotional Toll of Hell: Cross-National and Experimental Evidence for the Negative Well-Being Effects of Hell Beliefs," researchers analyzed data from Gallup World Poll, the World Values Survey and the European Values survey, examining survey information from 63 countries.

The general finding was that the more belief in heaven outpaced belief in hell, the more satisfied residents were in a specific country. Believing in heaven, according to researchers, led to greater satisfaction in life on the whole.

"We find that a belief in Heaven is consistently associated with greater happiness and life satisfaction while a belief in Hell is associated with lower happiness and life satisfaction at the national (Study 1) and individual (Study 2) level," reads an abstract. "An experimental priming study (Study 3) suggests that these differences are mainly driven by the negative emotional impact of Hell beliefs. Possible cultural evolutionary explanations for the persistence of such a distressing religious concept are discussed."

The researchers also conducted their own study to examine whether miserable people are actually more likely to believe in hell, a reversal of the notion that belief in hell might lead people to being less content.

So, they asked 422 individuals to write about heaven, hell and what they had done the day before. Then, these people were asked to rate their feelings on seven emotional indicators: guilt, security, shame, calmness, fear, happiness and sadness, Live Science reported.

While writing about heaven and the previous day's activities yielded similar results, those who wrote about hell expressed feeling less happiness. This was something that impacted the religious and nonreligious alike.

"Thus, the belief in Hell, and religious malevolence more generally, may contribute to the encouragement of rule following, through the deterrence value of supernatural punishment, but may do so at the cost of well-being," reads a portion of the study's conclusion. "This creates an intriguing trade-off between the interests of the group, which benefit from the ethical behavior of the group's members, and the interest of the individual, who shoulders the emotional costs of a society that follows norms out of fear."

Read the research in its entirety here.

(H/T: Live Science)


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