Happiness is an elusive but important concept both to psychologists and to theologians. For psychologists, a proper understanding of happiness is seen to stand at the heart of psychological well-being and optimal human functioning. For theologians, a proper understanding of happiness is the promise held out to those who are obedient to God's call. For example, in the Jewish scriptures, Psalm 1 proclaims, "Happy are those who reject the advice of evil men. Instead they find joy in obeying the law of the Lord." A number of psychological traditions have set out to offer a definition of happiness and to develop sound measures to assess individuals' levels of happiness. A major contribution to this area has been made by Michael Argyle, who developed a psychological test known as the Oxford Happiness Inventory.
Argyle suggested that happiness comprises three key components: the frequency and degree of positive affect or joy, the average level of satisfaction over a period of time, and the absence of negative feelings, such as depression and anxiety. It was this definition that Argyle operationalized through the 29 items of the Oxford Happiness Inventory. Considerable literature has been developed that is concerned with mapping the predictors of happiness throughout life, giving attention both to personal factors (like age, sex, and personality) and to contextual factors (like participation in sport, watching television, and listening to music).
Using the Oxford Happiness Inventory, Leslie J. Francis conducted a series of studies designed to examine the relationship between different dimensions of religion and spirituality and perceived levels of happiness. These studies have consistently found that a positive attitude toward religion is associated with higher levels of happiness. For example, in one study Francis administered the Oxford Happiness Inventory to three different age groups of people alongside the Francis Scale of Attitude toward Christianity.
The study included 944 pupils in their final year of compulsory schooling, 456 first-year undergraduate students, and 496 adults between the ages of 50 and 90. All three samples reported an association between a more positive religious attitude and a higher level of happiness. Similar findings have been reported among Hebrew-speaking Israeli students assessed by the Katz-Francis Scale of Attitude toward Judaism.
In conclusion, the available empirical evidence demonstrates that by contributing to a higher level of personal happiness and psychological well-being, religion makes a key contribution to positive youth and human development. It will be of interest to see if and how research related to happiness and religion continues to contribute to the field of positive youth development and what is known about religious and spiritual development.