the shape of leadership

Regular Churchgoers Are Happier

A new study links attendance and well-being

Influence Magazine on February 1, 2019

Regular churchgoers tend to be happier and more civically engaged than others, according to a new report from Pew Research Center.

The study analyzes markers of well-being among three categories of people in 26 countries: the actively religious (those identifying with a religion and attending services at least once a month); the inactively religious (those identifying with a religion who attend less often or not at all); and the religiously unaffiliated (those who do not identify with a religion).

Despite some mixed results across the globe, the actively religious in at least half the countries were significantly more likely than other groups to describe themselves as “very happy.” This remained true even after controlling for demographic variables. In the other countries, Pew categorized the differences as statistically insignificant. There was no country in which inactivity or non-affiliation resulted in greater happiness.

In the U.S., church attendance makes a considerable difference in overall happiness — with 36 percent of actively religious adults describing themselves as “very happy,” compared to 25 percent of both the inactively religious and unaffiliated.

Actively religious Americans are also more likely to say they are in “very good health” (32 percent of churchgoers vs. 27 percent of the inactively religious and 25 percent of the unaffiliated).

In the U.S., church attendance makes a considerable difference in overall happiness.

Around the world, active attenders are generally more civically engaged. In the U.S., 69 percent of regular churchgoers say they always vote in elections, compared to 59 percent of non-attending religious people and 48 percent of “nones.” In addition, more religiously active Americans belong to at least one nonreligious organization (58 percent) compared to the inactive and unaffiliated (51 and 39 percent, respectively).

“This analysis finds that in the U.S. and many other countries around the world, regular participation in a religious community clearly is linked with higher levels of happiness and civic engagement,” the Pew report said. “This may suggest that societies with declining levels of religious engagement, like the U.S., could be at risk for declines in personal and societal well-being.”

A number of other measures of well-being in the U.S. suggested some health advantages of religious service attendance. In the U.S., 85 percent of regular attenders are non-smokers, compared to 74 percent of “nones” and 72 percent of the inactively religious. Similarly, 96 percent of the actively religious avoid drinking frequently versus 92 percent of the unaffiliated and 90 percent of inactive individuals.

Regular churchgoers in the U.S. were slightly more likely to exercise several times a week (64 percent), compared to non-attenders (62 percent) and “nones” (60 percent).

However, unaffiliated Americans have the edge when it comes to maintaining a body mass index of less than 30, the measure of obesity (76 percent). By comparison, 72 percent of churchgoers, and 65 percent of inactive religious people, say they are not obese.

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