Keep the Faith! You’ll Be Happier If You Have Friends in Church

by Nancy Frazier O’Brien

WASHINGTON (CNS) – Harvard public policy professor Robert D. Putnam has a tongue-in-cheek suggestion for pastors: “Spend less time on the sermons, and more time arranging the church suppers.”
That’s because research by Putnam and Chaeyoon Lim, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, shows that the more church friends a person has, the happier he or she is.
“Church friends are super-charged friends, but we have no idea why,” Putnam told a summit on religion, well-being and health at Gallup world headquarters in Washington.
The researchers found that nonchurch friends do not provide the same benefit in terms of well-being and that other measures of religiosity – belief in God or frequency of prayer, for example – do not serve as a reliable predictor of a person’s satisfaction with life.
“People who frequently attend religious services are more satisfied with their lives not because they have more friends overall (when compared with individuals who do not attend services) but because they have more friends in their congregations,” the two researchers wrote in the American Sociological Review.
And churchgoing alone without making friends does not improve well-being, they found.
“In short, sitting alone in the pew does not enhance one’s life satisfaction,” Putnam and Lim wrote. “Only when one forms social networks in a congregation does religious service attendance lead to a higher level of life satisfaction.”
At the summit, Gallup unveiled its latest studies on how religion affects well-being, both in the United States and worldwide.
Reviewing data from more than 676,000 participants in 2010 and 2011, Gallup researchers found a statistically significant relationship between religiousness and well-being, after controlling for such demographic variables as age, gender, race and ethnicity, geographic location, socio-economic status, marital status and child-bearing status.