CAIRO – People who practice religion tend to have greater satisfaction with their lives, a new US study has found, but scientists contend that it is the social aspect of a religious life, rather than spirituality, that boosts happiness.
“Our findings suggest that religious people are more satisfied with their lives,” said the study “Religion, Social Networks, and Life Satisfaction” released on Tuesday, December 7.
The study, conducted for the American Sociological Association, analyzed nationwide data collected using phone surveys with nearly 5000 American adults in 2006 and 2007.
The researchers found that across all faiths, religious people were more satisfied than non-religious people.
According to the data, about 28 percent of people who attended a religious service were “extremely satisfied” with their lives, compared with 19.6 percent of people who never attended services.
“Those with strong religious identities are almost twice as likely to say that they are ‘extremely’ satisfied than are individuals without a strong religious identity.”
“Even in that short time, we observed that people who were not going to church but then started to go more often reported an improvement in how they felt about life satisfaction,” said co-author Chaeyoon Lim, assistant professor of sociology atWisconsin University.
It is not the first study to conclude that religion is associated with happiness.
A 2008 study presented to the London-based Royal Economic Society conference, collecting data from thousands of Europeans, also affirmed there are higher levels of “life satisfaction” in believers.
The Legatum Prosperity Index, global study of the factors that drive and restrain national prosperity across more than 110 countries, also found that religious people’s happiness is less vulnerable to fluctuations in economic and political uncertainty, personal unemployment and income changes.
But the researchers suggest that their research dug deeper.
While numerous studies find that religious people have a higher level of life satisfaction than do non-religious people, those studies do not provide convincing evidence that religion actually improves well-being.
“Using a panel dataset, we demonstrate that religious service attendance has positive effects on life satisfaction.”
The researchers also seek to answer the question why religion is closely related to life satisfaction and happiness.
They concluded that people who embrace religion are not necessarily happier because of the very aspects of their religious practice like sermons of a sense of spirituality, but rather because religion offers personal networks and support.
“Our analyses suggest that social networks forged in congregations and strong religious identities are the key variables that mediate the positive connection between religion and life satisfaction,” the study said.
“People with religious affiliations are more satisfied with their lives because they attend religious services frequently and build intimate social networks in their congregations.”
Professor Lim asserts that the social aspect of religion is even a stronger element for happiness rather than the theological or spiritual aspect.
He explained that people have a deep need for belonging to something “greater than themselves”, and the experience of sharing rituals and activities with close friends in a congregation gives them that feeling.
“In particular, we find that friendships built in religious congregations are the secret ingredient in religion that makes people happier,” Lim said.
The study noted that for such reason, social gatherings in faith affect lives more than having faith alone.
“For life satisfaction, praying together seems to be better than either bowling together or praying alone.”