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Cultural Evolution Shifts the Source of Happiness from Religion to Subjective Freedom

Abstract

Numerous studies have reported a positive individual-level association between happiness and two psychologically distinct states of mind: religious faith and subjective freedom (a feeling of life control). Although the strength of these relationships varies across countries, no general pattern driving this variation has been shown so far. After surveying 40,534 randomly selected respondents from 43 nations, we find that in countries where happiness is more closely related to religious faith, it is less strongly associated with subjective freedom, and vice versa. We have also identified the driving force behind this inverse relationship. Rising individualism and emancipative values, as an outcome of modernization, diminish the importance of religious faith for people’s happiness, while increasing the importance of subjective freedom. We conclude that the dominant emancipatory direction of cultural evolution favors freedom over religion.

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Notes

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    In Christianity’s most important prayer, God (supposedly the author of that prayer) receives a number of requests, the most important of which is to lead not the believers into temptation and deliver them from evil. In Al-Fatiha, the opening of the Quran and a quintessential Muslim prayer, Allah is asked to “show us the straight path, the path of those whom Thou hast favored, not (the path) of those who earn Thine anger nor of those who go astray”.

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Correspondence to Michael Minkov.

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The study uses data from adults who participated in the research voluntarily. The whole data collection was done anonymously online. All respondents had been informed that they could skip any question that made them feel uncomfortable or abandon the study at any time.

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Minkov, M., Welzel, C. & Schachner, M. Cultural Evolution Shifts the Source of Happiness from Religion to Subjective Freedom. J Happiness Stud 21, 2873–2888 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-019-00203-w

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Keywords

  • Happiness
  • Subjective well-being
  • Religion
  • Subjective freedom
  • Individualism