Study: Congregants happier with good friends in pews

December 9, 2010

Close friendships among churchgoers, rather than theology, seem to be
the key to happiness among religious people, according to a new study.

One-third
of Americans who attend religious services weekly and have three to
five close friends in the congregation said they are "extremely
satisfied" with their lives. In comparison, only one in five Americans
who attend services weekly but have no close friends in the congregation
say they are extremely satisfied.

"In short, 'sitting alone in
the pew' does not enhance one's life satisfaction," conclude authors
Chaeyoon Lim of the University of Wisconsin–Madison and Robert D. Putnam
of Harvard University in a December article in American Sociological
Review.

"Only when one forms social networks in a congregation
does religious service attendance lead to a higher level of life
satisfaction."

Researchers found that 23 percent of people who
attend religious services several times a year and have three to five
close friends in the congregation are extremely satisfied. About a fifth
of people who never attend services also say they are extremely
satisfied with their lives.

The findings are based on the Faith Matters Survey of U.S. adults.  —RNS