Agnostics and atheists tend to laugh out loud more regularly while the spiritual tend to sleep easier according to the first Hindustan Times-MaRS Happiness Survey 2013.
The first-of-its-kind survey, which measured the happiness of Indian citizens in their daily lives, questioned extremely religious and non-religious people about their relationships, their self-esteem and even their behaviour.
While two-thirds (66.1%) of religious Indians are happy with themselves, three-fourths (76.8%) of those who consider themselves non-religious are also content with their own being. Clinical psychologist Sameer Malhotra believes it is not that simple.
“Happiness is a state of mind, influenced by various factors like personality, coping abilities, etc. We cannot narrow it down to one factor,” he says.
People’s happiness in relationships with families seems equally stable, regardless of spiritual or religious orientation. Of the sample of religious people, 77.8% said they were happy with their familial ties, and 78.7% of the non-religious ones shared the same opinion.
But values education, or rather a concern for it, might be lacking in both groups. While the sample of non-religious people showed little care for acting on a set of values — only 22% said they do so —religious Indians don’t seem to fare much better. Only 33.5% stuck to a code of values in their everyday interactions.
Says writer-activist Dr Asghar Ali Engineer of the Mumbai-based Centre for Study of Society and Secularism: “I’d say secular people care more for values, whereas religious people look at rituals. There’s a disconnect between values and rituals. In general, you may celebrate festivals if you feel you’re religious but in terms of your conduct you may not be truthful or a helpful person.”
However, Akhtarul Wasey, professor of Islamic studies at Jamia Millia Islamia, disagrees. “Religion is not merely rituals. It inculcates qualities like contentment, selflessness, love and a sense of service. These prime virtues make a religious person happier. The results of the survey don’t seem to reflect that.”
Certain results, while not unexpected, were significant. As per the survey, religious people tend to take themselves more seriously.
Barely half, 47%, said they regularly break out into loud laughter while on the flipside, 67.1% of non-religious people said they tend to ‘lol’ more often.
Even when it came to cracking jokes, only 39.1% of religious people said they do so regularly compared to the 59.1% of the sample of non-religious Indians.
In Wasey’s opinion, happiness is subjective.
“It means different things to different people. Just because a religious man does not crack a joke does not mean that he will hate a joke. Even those who laugh publicly might be covering their sadness and anguish under the garb of laughter,” he says.
Even Malhotra seems to echo this view.
He says, “These days, a lot of people take up spirituality and are happy with that. No religion propagates anger and negativity. So it totally depends upon how one connects with their religion.”
One dimension where religious people tend to win out is a good night’s rest. Over half or 51.8% said that they sleep without worry.
Of the non-religious sample, only 37.9% could say the same.
“A man with full faith in almighty lord will obviously be free of worry. He knows that whatever happens is predestined. His only concern is doing what is good,” says Wasey.
Senior consultant psychiatrist Sanjay Chugh agrees.
“Religion could act as a strong anchor for people giving them a sense of support, strength and safety. They could feel that a higher power is watching over them and hence sleep more peacefully,” he says.