Does belief in hell affect your emotional state? Previous research has suggested that countries where there is a strong belief in a punitive afterlife experience less crime and more economic prosperity, but it seems there is a trade-off—people who dwell on a hellish afterlife tend to report less happiness, according to a recent survey. This latest study forces us to ask ourselves, is there a place for belief in hell in our work as ministers ordained online, or should we do away with it entirely?
Exploring Notions of Divine Punishment
Data from several international surveys covering sixty-three countries were gathered by Azim Shariff, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Oregon, and Lara Aknin of Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, and the results were published in January in PLOS ONE. Shariff and Aknin looked at the data to determine how beliefs about heaven and hell determined people’s everyday moods as well as their long-term satisfaction with life. They found that general populations were happier in countries where belief in heaven was stronger than belief in hell, and also that individuals who believed more strongly in heaven than hell also reported greater life satisfaction.
To determine whether the correlation between unhappiness and belief in hell was causal in nature, Shariff and Aknin conducted their own survey. They asked 442 participants on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (a crowdsourcing marketplace) to write about either heaven, hell, or what they did the previous day. They then asked the participants to rate how strongly they were feeling seven different emotions ranging from happiness to sadness. The emotional ratings of those who wrote about heaven did not differ from those who wrote about the previous day’s activities; however, people who wrote about hell did report feeling greater unhappiness than the others.
What Causes The Hell-Sadness Link?
There are several possible explanations for the survey data examined. Shariff and Aknin concluded that while thinking about heaven does not necessarily make people happier (there is no emotional change), thinking about hell does make people sadder. Additionally, it is possible that thinking about hell makes nonbelievers re-consider their fate in the afterlife if they are indeed wrong in their disbelief. And the fact that countries with stronger belief in hell have lower crime rates (from another study conducted by Shariff) might mean that fear of supernatural punishment suppresses antisocial behavior and encourages people to cooperate even as it makes them feel miserable.
Certainly this topic deserves further study before any hard-and-fast conclusions can be drawn about how belief in hell affects people’s emotional states. How has it affected yours? Has it made you more miserable, or more motivated to do good?
The Huffington Post