Has anyone ever tried to measure happiness of Buddhist practitioners and compare it in a scientific or analytically way to other religious groups or the population as a whole? If there are studies what were the results and are the measurements reliable or meaningful in any way?

I appreciate that the notion of happiness is an incredibly slippy notion but people do crop up from time to time who talk about happiness as a (sort of) scientific study and try to compare different locations and so forth e.g. this study indicates that Panama is the happiest country on earth. I'm not claiming that this is a great or accurate study but it's just an example of this kind of thing. Also perhaps a better word might be well-being rather than happiness but I'm not sure that does much to tighten the definition.

  • If you go by the number of wars that Siam and Burma have had since the dawn of Buddhism, it would seem like religion had little effect on such things across large populations. Across individual practitioners it's probably different. Anyway, science hasn't even been able to establish if theists are happier than atheists.
    – Buddho
    Aug 25, 2015 at 15:05
  • I believe Buddhas are happier than average :-)
    – Buddho
    Aug 26, 2015 at 6:09

5 Answers 5


Bhutan is a Buddhist country famous for its Gross National Happiness metric. So far, poverty is a drag on that metric: Bhutan Happiness Index: Buddhist Country Fails On Its 'Gross National Happiness'

Other economists have thought about happiness and how Buddhism might figure in to it, ref. Happiness and economics: a Buddhist perspective (too much material to summarize quickly).


This article describes a study from 2001, involving monks with EEGs and functional MRIs.

The Pursuit of Happiness
CBC News Online | April 23, 2004

His prize subjects – and collaborators – are the Dalai Lama's lamas, the monks.

"The monks, we believe, are the Olympic athletes of certain kinds of mental training," Davidson says. "These are individuals who have spent years in practice. To recruit individuals who have undergone more than 10,000 hours of training of their mind is not an easy task and there aren't that many of these individuals on the planet."

The latter part of the article describes meditation's also being useful to non-Buddhists.


On the point of happiness as a 'slippery notion', I think there's a very helpful distinction to make between hedonic and eudaemonic happiness. Roughly speaking (and this is just my take - I welcome refinements or corrections): through the first 2 noble truths, a Buddhist practitioner stops seeking ultimate refuge in hedonic happiness, turning away from the sorrow and disappointment that inevitably follow from putting all of one's eggs in this basket; and through the 3rd and 4th noble truths a practitioner begins to perfect his or her eudaemonic happiness.

As to how successful Buddhist practitioners are in this endeavor as a whole... honestly, it's a fascinating question but I have no idea how to answer it empirically on a large scale. For myself and the practitioners I've met, simply turning toward eudaemonic happiness has been a profound and lasting source of joy - a path good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good at the end.

  • 1
    That's the first use of "eudaemonic" on this site; and the only definition of that word which I find easily on the web is "happy-making". Can you recommend a specific definition of this word, or a text (apart from Buddhism-in-general) which describes this form of happiness?
    – ChrisW
    Aug 26, 2015 at 12:18
  • 1
    Sorry Chris - usage in a Buddhist context may be pretty specific to Alan Wallace. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (2005) cites Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, and describes it as the "greatest good," consisting of "exercise of the virtues, which itself instantiates all human goods." The intent is to say that a morally good life is essential to human well-being; and conversely well-being supports our goodness (so the concept does not promote asceticism or reject the worth of mundane well-being).
    – Alan W
    Aug 26, 2015 at 21:12
  • 1
    Also might help to clarify what I understand by hedonic in a Buddhist context. Essentially, it is stimulus-driven gratification- ultimately disappointing (because it drives avarice, which always ends badly because the desire is either thwarted, or temporarily met to some degree and then lost). By contrast, eudaemonia is a happiness that doesn't rely on confusing impermanence with permanence, dissatisfaction with satisfaction, or non-self with self.
    – Alan W
    Aug 26, 2015 at 22:44

You need to be careful with how you use statistics to demonstrate things because there can be a lot of confounding variables. Many Buddhist countries have political instability, poverty, various public health problems, and much of the population aren't full blown practitioners of the teachings, but are mostly nominal Buddhists who might occasionally participate in a festival or ceremonies, but don't know much about the teachings and how to practice them.

To draw scientific conclusions you would need to be able to compare groups of people who are similarly situated in things except for practicing Buddhists and everyone else, and that would be very hard.

  • 2
    Plus if Buddhism indeed offers happiness then unhappy people will be drawn to it and will bring down the average ;-) I think science isn't ready to take on some topics like happiness just yet.
    – Buddho
    Aug 26, 2015 at 6:11

Buddhism is not about happiness. Its about letting go.

  • Hi and welcome to Buddhism SE. Could you elaborate on your answer. One-line answers cannot really be considered answers. The stack exchange format is a "best-answer" format. We have a Guide and a Resource section for new users where you can find more information about how to write a good answer.
    – user2424
    Aug 27, 2015 at 5:28

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