TUESDAY, Dec. 7 (HealthDay News) -- Regular churchgoers may lead more satisfying lives than stay-at-home folks because they create a network of close friends who provide important support, a new study suggests.
Conducted at the University of Wisconsin, the researchers found that 28 percent of people who attend church weekly say they are "extremely satisfied" with life as opposed to only 20 percent who never attend services. But the satisfaction comes from participating in a religious congregation along with close friends, rather than a spiritual experience, the study found.
Regular churchgoers who have no close friends in their congregations are no more likely to be very satisfied with their lives than those who never attend church, according to the research.
Study co-author Chaeyoon Lim said it's long been recognized that churchgoers report more satisfaction with their lives. But, "scholars have been debating the reason," he said.
"Do happier people go to church? Or does going to church make people happier?" asked Lim, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
This study, published in the December issue of the American Sociological Review, appears to show that going to church makes people more satisfied with life because of the close friendships established there.
Feeling close to God, prayer, reading scripture and other religious rituals were not associated with a prediction of greater satisfaction with life. Instead, in combination with a strong religious identity, the more friends at church that participants reported, the greater the likelihood they felt strong satisfaction with life.
The study is based on a phone survey of more than 3,000 Americans in 2006, and a follow-up survey with 1,915 respondents in 2007. Most of those surveyed were mainline Protestants, Catholics and Evangelicals, but a small numb
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