The answer to whether being religious makes it easier to be happy is typically Jewish – yes, no and maybe. It would be easy to say that becoming religious and adopting a Torah life style will bring a guarantee of happiness and the truth is that it really should accomplish this for a number of reasons.
Learning Torah and doing mitzvot brings us closer to our Creator, integrates us into a more refined spiritual life, gives us purpose and direction and reveals our inner potential for good. Through Torah we learn how to rectify ourselves and the world around us, thus becoming a partner with God in creation. There is no greater joy than feeling close to God and having a purpose and mission in life.
So why is being religious not guaranteed to make us happy? The reason is that just like all the riches in the world can not buy happiness, so too, adopting a Torah life style will only bring us joy if we allow God and the wisdom of the Torah to really permeate our whole being. Like anything else in life, Torah can become rote, dry and a burden if we don’t choose to make it the joy of our lives.
Happiness is a choice – a very conscious choice – and it is something that needs to be worked on and nurtured. There is no peace like Shabbas, no joy like the holidays, no sense of fulfillment like doing the many mitzvot that entail acts of kindness. Yet, you can lead a horse to the water but can’t make him drink. We must ultimately choose to view the world in a positive, joyous manner and learn to actually live and be happy with the Torah we learn and practice.