The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

February 18, 2014

Religion may hold key to finding meaning in life

By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Are you happy?

I don’t mean right now, this exact moment in time, though the fact it is a Wednesday, we are one day closer to spring and there is no snow on the ground at the moment is fodder for at least a modicum of good feelings.

I mean are you — day in, day out; up, down and sideways; in spite of the fact your car won’t start, the dog chewed up your favorite shoes and your boss is impossible — happy?

The United States isn’t even in the top 10 when it comes to the happiest countries in the world, according to a ranking put together by Legatum, a think tank dedicated to trying to make the world a better place. We are No. 11, according to that poll.

America is No. 17 on the happiness chart put out by Columbia University and its Earth Institute. Likewise in the poll produced by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

The U.S. fared better according to happiness findings released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, placing sixth.

There is no consensus on which country is happiest on the globe. Legatum says it is Norway, Columbia taps Denmark and the OECD places Australia on top of the happy heap.

The benchmarks used to measure national happiness vary as greatly as the organizations applying them, but largely include household income, employment, engagement in civic affairs and life expectancy, among others.

So to be happy, you’ve got to have a job, make decent money, get involved in your community and live a long time?

Then why do people in poor places like Sierra Leone, Togo, Lagos and Senegal say their lives have more meaning than those of us in wealthy countries?

Those were the findings of a Gallup World Poll. People living in countries ranked lowest on the gross domestic product scale said they felt their lives had great meaning.

That doesn’t mean having money is a bad thing, just that it often gets in the way of life’s true meaning. It is probably not coincidental that those countries where life has more meaning report the lowest suicide rates.

Researchers found the one constant in this equation was religion. The more religious a nation, the greater the meaning of life for its people.

Last May, another Gallup poll found that 77 percent of Americans surveyed thought religion was losing influence in this country, while 75 percent said the United States would be better off if Americans were more religious.

The survey didn’t specify in what ways the country would be improved if there were more religious folks here, but perhaps it all goes back to the question of a meaningful life.

Likewise, the survey didn’t say what form of religion produced the greatest life meaning for its followers. In Togo, for example, 70 percent practice a traditional African religion, while 20 percent are Christian and 10 percent Muslim. In Laos, about 90 percent of the people are professed Buddhists, while in Sierra Leone, 55 percent are Muslim and 40 percent Christian.

Perhaps we can find meaning in the simple acknowledgment that there is something much bigger than ourselves at work in the world, or that, in the company of fellow believers, we are not alone, but can instead share the joys and burdens of human existence.

Maybe it is the emphasis of religion on service to and love of others, which provides meaning by helping break us out of our cocoon of self-obsession.

It could be when we find out life is truly not all about us that we begin to be more open to finding out just what the whole crazy thing means.

It might all come down to the fact that, while nobody has all the answers, if you are a person of faith at least you know where to go to ask your questions.



Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.