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Going through Hell: Belief in a punitive afterlife linked to lower well-being, study finds

Posted by on Feb. 14, 2014 at 1:04 PM
  • 19 Replies

Going through Hell: Belief in a punitive afterlife linked to lower well-being, study finds

By Eric W. Dolan
Friday, February 14, 2014 12:16 EST

Man in hell on Shutterstock
 

Those who believe some people face eternal torment in the afterlife tend to be less satisfied with their current life and less happy, according to a new study published in PLoS One.

“Although religiosity is consistently tied to greater well-being, little research has examined which elements of religious belief offer mood benefits, which do not, and which may in fact be detrimental,” Azim F. Shariff of the University of Oregon and Lara B. Aknin of the Simon Fraser University in Canada wrote in their study.

The researchers first analyzed data from the Gallup World Poll, World Values Survey, and European Values Survey to compare the “differences in subjective well-being between 63 countries against national rates of Heaven and Hell beliefs.” These international surveys were conducted on hundreds of thousands of individuals, and allowed the researchers to account for potentially confounding variables like religious attendance, GDP per capita, and unemployment.

Shariff and Aknin found that both the belief in Heaven and the belief in Hell were significant, but divergent, predictors of happiness at the national level. Countries that had higher rates of happiness had lower rates of belief in Hell and higher rates of belief in Heaven.

In a second study, the researchers again used the World Values Survey and European Values Survey to test this relationship at the individual level. After controlling for variables like age, income, education level, religious attendance, and sex, the two researchers again found that belief in Hell was associated with unhappiness while belief in Heaven was associated with happiness.

Shariff and Aknin also examined whether there was any difference between Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — and non-Abrahamic religions like Hinduism. They discovered that Hell beliefs were associated with lower well-being and Heaven beliefs were associated with higher well-being for both Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic adherents. They found no significant difference.

Both studies only showed a correlation between the belief in Hell and unhappiness. But does believing in Hell make a person unhappy, or are unhappy people more likely to believe in hell?

“While we suggest that a belief in Hell leads to lower levels of well-being, these data cannot rule out the possibility that individuals with low levels of well-being are more likely to adopt the belief in Hell or that some third variable is responsible for this pattern,” Shariff and Aknin explained.

The two researchers sought to better understand the causal relationship between the belief in Hell and unhappiness by conducting an experimental priming study. Four hundred and twenty-two American participants were asked to write about Heaven, Hell, or what they did yesterday before reporting their current mood.

As expected, those who wrote about Hell reported being less happy than those who wrote about Heaven or what they did yesterday.

“Religious believers and non-believers both showed more emotional negativity when writing about Hell compared to the control condition,” Shariff and Aknin wrote. “It is notable that reflecting on Hell negatively affected well-being, regardless of whether the participant identified as a religious believer.”

Belief in Hell may persist — despite its tendency to reduce happiness — because it provides a social function, the researchers said. Namely, the belief in a punitive afterlife may help promote ethical behavior.

“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,” Shariff and Aknin wrote.

“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.”

by on Feb. 14, 2014 at 1:04 PM
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Replies (1-10):
meriana
by Ruby Member on Feb. 14, 2014 at 2:40 PM

I wonder how many of those in the survey actually have a deep belief in the idea of Hell. Thinking about it and writing about it could cause one to feel unhappy, just like writing or thinking about any really, really unpleasant  or horrible situation would and does.


I don't think most people actually really believe in Hell. When ministers/pastors/priests, etc. comfort, say, a person who is a known serial killer, on the way to their execution, they certainly aren't telling said person they're going to Hell, they're telling them they're forgiven, etc. and pretty much offering them the hope of Heaven.  Seems to me if they actually believed the really evil go to Hell, they wouldn't be saying the opposite.


As for society following norms out of fear, that could be applied to being sent to jail for misdeeds and pretty much any kind of punishment. People refrain from doing things that they know will result in some kind of punishment, whether that's actual fear (for some it might be) or just a dislike of being punished depends on the person. Different people fear different things and at different levels.

stormcris
by Christy on Feb. 15, 2014 at 8:24 AM

They found that focusing on negative or undesirable aspects can in fact lead to lower well being. Isn't this true across the board no matter if it is religiously based or otherwise? 

snookyfritz
by Platinum Member on Feb. 15, 2014 at 8:39 AM

Well, if you're going to be an asshole or sinful, belief in hell would kind of be a downer. 

JTROX
by Platinum Member on Feb. 15, 2014 at 8:41 AM
1 mom liked this

I believe in the reality of hell.  I tend to be a pretty happy person.

mikiemom
by Ruby Member on Feb. 15, 2014 at 9:10 AM

 this exactly - even though I know that christians think they can do what-ever they want and still go to their heaven because they think all they need to do is say they believe or in the case of catholics confess their sins. Whether or not they are a good person is not relevant in their religion.

Quoting stormcris:

They found that focusing on negative or undesirable aspects can in fact lead to lower well being. Isn't this true across the board no matter if it is religiously based or otherwise? 

 

snookyfritz
by Platinum Member on Feb. 15, 2014 at 9:13 AM

That's just not true.  It annoys me when people, who are otherwise bright and articulate, reduce ideas to the lowest form possible.  Making sweeping generalizations and blatantly false statements.  And you wonder why a decent conversation can't be had (well, maybe you don't) 

Quoting mikiemom:

 this exactly - even though I know that christians think they can do what-ever they want and still go to their heaven because they think all they need to do is say they believe or in the case of catholics confess their sins. Whether or not they are a good person is not relevant in their religion.

Quoting stormcris:

They found that focusing on negative or undesirable aspects can in fact lead to lower well being. Isn't this true across the board no matter if it is religiously based or otherwise? 



supermonstermom
by on Feb. 15, 2014 at 9:31 AM

The people studies were from various countries, which could skew the results.  If you live an opressive country where religion and goverment and are the same, you could believe in hell and be unhappy because of your experiences from living in an oppressive country.  It does not say which countries the people were from who were interviewed.    What is the purpose of the study to prove or disprove if a person's religion is good for them or not?

mikiemom
by Ruby Member on Feb. 15, 2014 at 10:06 AM

 I don't see alot of christians who actually live their lives as good people. I see many that scream at the top of their lungs about being saved. I was raised catholic, All that I ever saw from them was hypocrisy

Quoting snookyfritz:

That's just not true.  It annoys me when people, who are otherwise bright and articulate, reduce ideas to the lowest form possible.  Making sweeping generalizations and blatantly false statements.  And you wonder why a decent conversation can't be had (well, maybe you don't) 

Quoting mikiemom:

 this exactly - even though I know that christians think they can do what-ever they want and still go to their heaven because they think all they need to do is say they believe or in the case of catholics confess their sins. Whether or not they are a good person is not relevant in their religion.

Quoting stormcris:

They found that focusing on negative or undesirable aspects can in fact lead to lower well being. Isn't this true across the board no matter if it is religiously based or otherwise? 

 

 

 

snookyfritz
by Platinum Member on Feb. 15, 2014 at 10:10 AM

Well, it makes it appear that you don't want to engage with anyone.  To outright insult people's intelligence and belief doesn't do much for gaining any mutual understanding. 

Quoting mikiemom:

 I don't see alot of christians who actually live their lives as good people. I see many that scream at the top of their lungs about being saved. I was raised catholic, All that I ever saw from them was hypocrisy

Quoting snookyfritz:

That's just not true.  It annoys me when people, who are otherwise bright and articulate, reduce ideas to the lowest form possible.  Making sweeping generalizations and blatantly false statements.  And you wonder why a decent conversation can't be had (well, maybe you don't) 

Quoting mikiemom:

 this exactly - even though I know that christians think they can do what-ever they want and still go to their heaven because they think all they need to do is say they believe or in the case of catholics confess their sins. Whether or not they are a good person is not relevant in their religion.

Quoting stormcris:

They found that focusing on negative or undesirable aspects can in fact lead to lower well being. Isn't this true across the board no matter if it is religiously based or otherwise? 





redheadstar
by on Feb. 15, 2014 at 10:16 AM
1 mom liked this

I agree with You, true Christians do not intentionally do something bad and then continue to do it over and over again and later ask God for forgiveness, that is like slapping God in the face.   

Quoting snookyfritz:

That's just not true.  It annoys me when people, who are otherwise bright and articulate, reduce ideas to the lowest form possible.  Making sweeping generalizations and blatantly false statements.  And you wonder why a decent conversation can't be had (well, maybe you don't) 

Quoting mikiemom:

 this exactly - even though I know that christians think they can do what-ever they want and still go to their heaven because they think all they need to do is say they believe or in the case of catholics confess their sins. Whether or not they are a good person is not relevant in their religion.

Quoting stormcris:

They found that focusing on negative or undesirable aspects can in fact lead to lower well being. Isn't this true across the board no matter if it is religiously based or otherwise? 

 

 

 

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