Scientists have found that there is something about religion which elevates people to a happier state of mind.
"Our study offers compelling evidence that it is the social aspects of religion rather than theology or spirituality that leads to life satisfaction," said Chaeyoon Lim, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and lead author.
"In particular, we find that friendships built in religious congregations are the secret ingredient in religion that makes people happier," Lim said.
In their study, Lim and co-author Robert D. Putnam, the Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, use data from a panel survey of a representative sample of U.S. adults in 2006 and 2007.
According to the study, 33 percent of people who attend religious services every week and have three to five close friends in their congregation report that they are "extremely satisfied" with their lives.
In comparison, only 19 percent of people who attend religious services weekly, but who have no close friends in their congregation report that they are extremely satisfied.
On the other hand, 23 percent of people who attend religious services only several times a year, but who have three to five close friends in their congregation are extremely satisfied with their lives.
Finally, 19 percent of people who never attend religious services, and therefore have no friends from congregation, say they are extremely satisfied with their lives.
"To me, the evidence substantiates that it is not really going to church and listening to sermons or praying that makes people happier, but making church-based friends and building intimate social networks there," Lim said.
The study appeared in the December issue of the American Sociological Review.