A couple of studies found a correlation between belief in hell and unhappiness.
Both studies only showed a correlation between the belief in Hell and unhappiness. But does believing in Hell make a person unhappy, or are unhappy people more likely to believe in hell?
“While we suggest that a belief in Hell leads to lower levels of well-being, these data cannot rule out the possibility that individuals with low levels of well-being are more likely to adopt the belief in Hell or that some third variable is responsible for this pattern,” Shariff and Aknin explained.
It certainly seems to me a very grim thing to believe – a place of eternal punishment for things done during a very non-eternal life. It’s a nightmare belief, really.
Belief in Hell may persist — despite its tendency to reduce happiness — because it provides a social function, the researchers said. Namely, the belief in a punitive afterlife may help promote ethical behavior.
“Thus, the belief in Hell, and religious malevolence more generally, may contribute to the encouragement of rule following, through the deterrence value of supernatural punishment, but may do so at the cost of well-being,” Shariff and Aknin wrote.
I don’t see why you need hell for that. You could believe there’s supernatural punishment without believing it never ends.