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Very Religious Americans Have Well-Being Edge

Very Religious Americans Have Well-Being Edge

by Alyssa Davis

There is something about being very religious in the United States that leads to or inherently goes along with having higher well-being. Gallup finds that this group of Americans -- those who say religion is an important part of their daily life and who attend a place of worship at least every week or almost every week -- score significantly higher on the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index than the moderately religious and the nonreligious.

Leading experts discussed the growing evidence of this relationship between religion, well-being, and health at a special Gallup summit held on Feb. 16, 2012, in Washington, D.C.

Gallup Editor-in-Chief Dr. Frank Newport revealed that the very religious rate their lives more positively, are less likely to have ever been diagnosed with depression, and experience fewer daily negative emotions. These findings are from parts one and two of a special multipart series on religiosity and well-being in America. The third article in the series reveals that the very religious also make much better health choices than do those who are not as or not at all religious. For instance, 14.9% of very religious Americans smoke compared with 26.6% of the moderately religious and 27.6% of the nonreligious. The very religious are also more likely to eat healthy foods and to exercise frequently.

Dr. Chaeyoon Lim, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin, explained that those who attended religious services experience higher life satisfaction. His research demonstrates that it is not frequency of prayer or belief in God that correlates with life satisfaction; it is having church friends. Churchgoers are happier because of their church friends, which explained 85% of the correlation between church attendance and life satisfaction. Interestingly, people who have no friends at church are less happy than those who do not go to church at all. His research also suggests that having church friends contributes to greater life satisfaction than friends in other contexts.

Although religious individuals have better well-being than nonreligious individuals, more religious countries do not have better well-being than nonreligious countries after accounting for GDP. Dr. Angus Deaton, Dwight D. Eisenhower Professor of International Affairs and Professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University, used Gallup's global data to discover this contradiction. His research shows that countries with the most unpleasant conditions have the highest religiosity. For this reason, religiosity helps individual well-being, not country well-being.

Dr. Jim Harter, Chief Scientist, Workplace Management and Well-Being at Gallup, revealed that the relationship between religiosity and life evaluation is mediated by five specific elements of well-being -- career, social, financial, physical, and community. Religiosity improves these areas of well-being, which, in turn, leads to higher life evaluation. Dr. Harter suggested that workplaces can learn a lot from successful religious groups to improve employees' well-being.

Dr. Robert Putnam, Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, discussed the implications of these findings. He suggested that more research is needed on what it is about religious networks that make people happier.

The bottom line seems to be that these findings can be applied in other contexts to make individuals, workplaces, and the world healthier and happier.

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