Religious People Happier, More Satisfied with Life
Researchers have often linked spirituality and religion with a general happiness and life satisfaction, but a recent study suggests that it may not be the belief in God that actually promotes well-being. Chaeyoon Lim, a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, believes that the effect may be more likely due to the social network people build by attending religious services.
People with Close Friendships at Church Twice as Happy
In a study published in the journal American Sociological Review, Lim and colleague Robert Putnam of Harvard University contacted over 3,100 American adults by telephone in 2006 and asked questions about their religious activities and beliefs. The researchers attempted to contact the same group in 2007, and were able to ask the same questions of 1,915 of the original participants.
The surveys showed that across all religions, including Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Mormons, and Muslims, about 28 percent of those who attended religious services weekly were “extremely satisfied” with their lives versus 19.6% of those who never attended services. Even those who attended services just a few times a year were 23% as likely to report being extremely satisfied.
The satisfaction appeared to be most closely tied with the number of close friends the participants had within their religious congregation, versus strength of belief or feelings about God’s love or presence. People with more than 10 friends were almost twice as satisfied with life as those without any close contacts within their church settings.
“We show that [life satisfaction] is almost entirely about the social aspect of religion, rather than the theological or spiritual aspect,” said Lim. “We found that people are more satisfied with their lives when they go to church, because they build a social network within their congregation.”
Lim believes that when close friends meet together as a group on a regular basis and participate in meaningful activities, they feel a sense of belonging that leads to happiness and satisfaction with their lives. Theoretically, the same effect could occur with those in a non-religious friend group, as long as they shared a social identity and engaged in similarly significant activities.
The researchers intend to carry out a third round of surveys with the same participants in 2011 where they will attempt to gather more data on secular friendship groups.