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Global Study Aims to Uncover How Humans Flourish

Global Study Aims to Uncover How Humans Flourish

by Ying Chen, Byron Johnson, Zacc Ritter and Tyler VanderWeele

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The inaugural results from the multiyear Global Flourishing study reveal intriguing relationships between religion and how well people’s lives are going.

Future administrations of this survey will interview the same 200,000 individuals contacted for the first study. This longitudinal approach offers researchers an unprecedented opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of these relationships in ways that multicountry, cross-sectional surveys cannot.

What Is Human Flourishing?

The primary interest of the Global Flourishing study is human flourishing, which is a multidimensional construct. The study includes 12 survey questions measuring six domains of flourishing identified in previous research:

  • happiness and life satisfaction
  • physical and mental health
  • meaning and purpose
  • character and virtue
  • close social relationships
  • financial and material stability

These self-reported responses can be averaged into an index ranging between zero and 10, where zero is the absence of flourishing and 10 is comprehensive attainment.1

The mean flourishing score falls between 6.5 and 8.0 in most of the 21 countries and one territory where data are collected. The mean score was below 6.5 only in Türkiye and Japan, and above 8.0 only in Indonesia. In the United States, the mean score was 7.11.2


What Is the Association Between Religion and Human Flourishing?

In addition to a host of social, demographic, economic, political and psychological measures, the Global Flourishing study asks questions about spiritual and religious beliefs and practices that may be linked to human flourishing.

The results from the first wave of data collection for the Global Flourishing study suggest certain aspects of religious observance and practice are associated with higher flourishing scores.

The flourishing score for those who identify as spiritual, religious or both is statistically higher on average than those who identify as neither, both with and without controlling for other factors. However, the difference when controlling for other factors is small (less than 0.06 points).

The association with flourishing is substantively larger for religiosity and religious service attendance. In terms of religiosity, the average flourishing score is 0.23 points higher for someone who says religion is an important part of daily life than someone who does not when controlling for other factors. In terms of attendance, the average flourishing score is 0.41 points higher for someone who attends at least weekly than someone who never attends. (See the PDF at the end of the article for the regression results.)

While religiosity and religious service attendance are associated with higher levels of flourishing, context is useful to understand the magnitude of the relationship. For instance, aspects of an individual’s economic situation are well-known predictors. Controlling for other factors, the flourishing score for someone who reports:

  • being “employed by an employer” is, on average, 0.22 points higher than "unemployed and looking for work”
  • “living comfortably on present income” is, on average, 2.02 points higher than someone “finding it very difficult”

Another aspect worth observing is how the relationship between these predictors and human flourishing varies across countries and territories. For instance, the correlation between flourishing and religious service attendance ranges significantly.

Accounting for other factors, including participation in secular community activities, no notable difference in flourishing exists in Indonesia and Tanzania among those who attend religious services at least once a week compared with those who never attend. In contrast, the average flourishing score difference between those who attend services at least once weekly and those who never attend is largest in the Philippines (0.67 points) and Türkiye (0.73 points).


Bottom Line

The Global Flourishing study offers data to researchers interested in understanding what factors facilitate human flourishing for over 200,000 individuals.

Regarding the relationship between religion and how well people’s lives are going, the inaugural wave of data will help researchers:

  • isolate what aspects of religion and spirituality promote which domains of human flourishing
  • establish the conditions moderating these associations across diverse societies
  • examine whether childhood religious participation is associated with present flourishing

These results are only associations. The public release of subsequent waves will allow researchers to undertake causally oriented analyses that are only possible with longitudinal panel data. For example, researchers can better assess evidence of whether more frequent religious service attendance causes greater human flourishing by tracking changes in this relationship among the same individuals over time.

Moreover, because of the large sample size, the Global Flourishing study will make it possible to examine the degree to which adherents of different religious traditions, including those with no religion, do or do not flourish over time in different cultures and contexts.

The Global Flourishing study is a public good premised on the open science principles of transparency, replicability and equality. Researchers can access these data by submitting pre-analysis plans with the Center for Open Science.

Download the regression analysis.

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For complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Appendix 1 “Country Dataset Details” in the Global Flourishing Study Methodology report.

[1] VanderWeele, T. J. (2017). On the promotion of human flourishing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(31), 8148–8156.

[2] VanderWeele TJ, Fulks J, Plake JF, Lee MT. National Well-Being Measures Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Online Samples. J Gen Intern Med. 2021 Jan; 36(1):248-250. doi: 10.1007/s11606-020-06274-3

Chen Y, Cowden RG, Fulks J, Plake JF, VanderWeele TJ. National Data on Age Gradients in Well-being Among US Adults. JAMA Psychiatry. 2022; 79(10):1046–1047. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2022.2473



Ying Chen, Department of Epidemiology, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health

Byron R. Johnson, Institute for Studies of Religion, Baylor University

Zacc Ritter, Gallup

Tyler J. VanderWeele, Department of Epidemiology, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health

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