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Meeting friends at church may make you happier--study

Going to church regularly may make you happier and your life more satisfying, suggests a new study. But it may not be the belief in God that actually makes the devout happy, instead it is more likely due to the social network people create by attending religious services.

Going to church regularly may make you happier and your life more satisfying, suggests a new study.

But it may not be the belief in God that actually makes the devout happy, instead it is more likely due to the social network people create by attending religious services.

It has been proved in numerous previous studies that religious people are more satisfied with their lives than nonbelievers, study authors say. But they failed to shed light on what aspect of religion--like church attendance, prayer, theology or spirituality--influences the life’s well-being.

People with friends at church are happier
Now, the new study, released today in the December issue of the American Sociological Review, finds it's not a relationship with God that makes the religious people happy. Instead, having close friends in the congregation actually promotes their life satisfaction.

Being part of a church congregation surrounded by friends promotes well-being because of its social rather than spiritual aspects, the new study reveals.

The study also found people who say they participated in religious practices held at home were no happier than those who never attend congregational services.

“Our study offers compelling evidence that it is the social aspects of religion rather than theology or spirituality that leads to life satisfaction,” Daily Mail quoted Chaeyoon Lim, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and lead author of the study, as saying.

“In particular, we find that friendships built in religious congregations are the secret ingredient in religion that makes people happier.”

Study details
For their study, Lim and colleague Robert Putnam of Harvard University contacted over 3,100 American adults by telephone, asking them questions about their religious activities, beliefs and social networks.

Being part of a church congregation surrounded by friends promotes well-being because of its social rather than spiritual aspects, the new study reveals.

In 2007, they called the same group back and got 1,915 of the respondents to answer the same set of questions again.

The surveyed people included mainly mainline Protestants, Catholics and Evangelicals, and a small number of Jews, Muslims and other non-traditional Christian churches.

Study findings
After a follow-up, the researchers found that 33 percent people across all religions who attended religious services every week and have three to five close friends in their congregation report being "extremely satisfied" with their lives.

Also, about 28 percent of people who attended a religious service weekly were "extremely satisfied" with their lives, versus 19.6 percent of those who never attended services, the study showed.

People with more than 10 friends in their congregation were almost twice as satisfied with life as those with no friends within their church settings.

The study also found that people who say they participated in religious practices held at home were no happier than those who never attend congregational services.

“We show that [life satisfaction] is almost entirely about the social aspect of religion, rather than the theological or spiritual aspect,” MSNBC quoted Lim as telling LiveScience. “We found that people are more satisfied with their lives when they go to church, because they build a social network within their congregation.”

“One of the important functions of religion is to give people a sense of belonging to a moral community based on religious faith. 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,” he added.

Lim and Putnam now intend to conduct a third round of surveys with the same respondents in 2011 where they, reportedly, will attempt to gather more data on secular friendship groups.