It's long been known that people who regularly attend a church or synagogue are happier than people who don't. But WHY?
Now researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Harvard University have identified religion's "secret ingredient" that makes people happier: Social interaction.
While a religion's theology and spirituality may attract someone to go to worship services in the first place, it is the social aspects of religion that ultimately lead to life satisfaction. "In particular, we find that friendships built in religious congregations are the secret ingredient in religion that makes people happier," says study co-leader and sociology professor Chaeyoon Lim.
Along with co-author Robert D. Putnam of Harvard, the team analyzed data from the Faith Matters Study, a panel survey of a representative sample of U.S. adults in 2006 and 2007.
- 33 percent of people who attend religious services every week and have three to five close friends in their congregation report that they are "extremely satisfied" with their lives. "Extremely satisfied" is defined as a 10 on a scale ranging from 1 to 10.
- 23 percent of people who attend religious services only several times a year, but who have three to five close friends in their congregation are extremely satisfied with their lives.
- 19 percent of people who attend religious services weekly, but who have no close friends in their congregation report that they are extremely satisfied.
- 19 percent of people who never attend religious services, and therefore have no friends from congregation, say they are extremely satisfied with their lives.
"To me, the evidence substantiates that it is not really going to church and listening to sermons or praying that makes people happier, but making church-based friends and building intimate social networks there," Lim said.
Why? People like to feel that they belong. "One of the important functions of religion is to give people a sense of belonging to a moral community based on religious faith," Lim explained. "This community, however, could be abstract and remote unless one has an intimate circle of friends who share a similar identity. The friends in one's congregation thus make the religious community real and tangible and strengthen one's sense of belonging to the community."
The study findings were published in the American Sociological Review.
--From the Editors at Netscape