Sunday, June 3, 2012

Secret ingredient in correlation between religiosity and life satisfaction

It has long been known that people who are religious are more satisfied with their lives. Believers can personally attest to the peace and joy that comes from knowing God's presence. However, one key measurable reason for this positive correlation between life satisfaction and religiosity has not previously been determined in scientific studies – perhaps until now. To set this up, we should ask: How many people have had an unpleasant experience when visiting a church in which the people seemed to be unwelcoming and unfriendly? How many have been unhappy in church because they felt disconnected?

A study published in the American Sociological Review examined the relationship between religiosity and life satisfaction by studying an intervening factor, the “secret ingredient”. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Chaeyoon Lim, assistant professor of sociology, and co-author Robert D. Putnam, Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, used data from the Faith Matters Study, a panel that surveyed a sample of U. S. adults in 2006 and 2007. The study found that 33% of regular church attendees who have three to five close friends in their congregation report they are “extremely satisfied” with their lives. In comparison, only 19% of those who attend religious services weekly, but have no close friends in the congregation, reported they are extremely satisfied. Lim noted the evidence substantiates the hypothesis that happiness is not derived so much from attending church, hearing sermons or even praying, but in building intimate social networks. One of the important functions of religion, according to Lim, is to give people a sense of belonging to a moral community based on religious faith.

The study’s findings were applicable to three main Christian traditions (mainline Protestant, Evangelical Protestant, and Catholic). The researchers found similar patterns among Jews and Mormons. "Our study offers compelling evidence that it is the social aspects of religion rather than theology or spirituality that leads to life satisfaction," said Lim. "In particular, we find that friendships built in religious congregations are the secret ingredient in religion that makes people happier." [1] At, we would certainly not discount the importance of individual prayer, listening to sermons and other important aspects of the Christian life. Nonetheless, this study demonstrates the encouragement that is derived from interpersonal connections.

“Encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thess. 5:11)
“pray one for another” (James 5:16)
“if we love one another, God lives in us” (1 John 4:12)
“ let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

[1] American Sociological Association, “’Secret ingredient’ in religion makes people happier.” ScienceDaily, posted 7 Dec 2010, accessed 20 May 2012.