If you go to church even just a few times a year, you will have close friends and be notably happier in life.
Those are the findings in a nationwide study published in the Dec. 7 edition of American Sociological Review.
Previous studies have noted that religious people have a higher level of well being when compared to non-religious people. But this new study finds there are two aspects that account for greater satisfaction in life.
Socializing and connecting with religious friends provides a stronger sense of identity and belonging, and these kind of friendships provide trust and social support.
The study 'Religion, Social Networks, and Life Satisfaction' found a third of people that go to church every week and have three to five close friends in the congregation were 'extremely satisfied' with their lives.
Nearly a quarter who irregularly attend church several times a year but had up to five close friends in the congregation said they were extremely satisfied with life.
In contrast, only a fifth who had no close friends said they were extremely satisfied.
The same number who never went to church said they had the same level of satisfaction.
'Our study offers compelling evidence that it is the social aspects of religion rather than theology or spirituality that leads to life satisfaction," Sociology assistant professor Chaeyoon Lim of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the study's lead author, explained.
'In particular, we find that friendships built in religious congregations are the secret ingredient in religion that makes people happier,' he said.
The study was based on data from the Faith Matters Study, a survey of U.S. adults conducted in 2006 and 2007.