Religious service attendance linked to better cognitive and emotional well-being

A new study in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion determined a link between religious attendance and self-rated wellbeing across several religions.

Research has previously shown a link between general religious involvement and subjective wellbeing. Scientists disagree on which facets of religion seem to be the most important, but many agree that religious attendance is an important predictor.

Additionally, most studies have focused exclusively on Christianity.

“Even though numerous studies have documented the positive relationship between religion and subjective wellbeing, few have compared the strength of the association systematically across different religious groups in the United States,” said Chaeyoon Lim, principal investigator of the study.

The study included over 1.3 million Americans who responded to the Gallup Daily Poll. Though the majority of participants were Christians, the current study also included large numbers of other religious groups: 26,242 Mormons; 28,880 Jews; 5,098 Muslims; and 31,507 other non-Christians.

The current study also examined both cognitive (mental) and affective (emotional) reports of wellbeing. Much of the existing body of research focuses only on cognitive measures.

Participants answered questions about their religious beliefs and were divided into eight categories: Protestant, Catholic, Other Christian, Mormon, Jewish, Muslim, Other Non-Christian, and No Religion.

Participants were asked how often they attended religious services, regardless of religious preference. To measure cognitive wellbeing, they rated their life satisfaction of a scale of 0 (“worst possible life for you”) to 10 (“best possible life for you”). To measure affective well-being, they answered seven questions about their day-to-day life (e.g. “Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?”)

Lim found that Protestants and Mormons reported more life satisfaction, or cognitive wellbeing, than the other religious groups. Protestants also reported the most positive emotional experiences (or affective wellbeing), followed by Mormons and Catholics. Muslims and Jews reported the least positive emotional experiences.

The data determined that religious attendance is linked to wellbeing in both the cognitive and affective domains, but more so in the affective. Additionally, the difference in life satisfaction between weekly attendees and non-attendees is substantial.

“This is equivalent to the change in life satisfaction associated with a [38 percent] increase of income,” said Lim.

Interestingly, the results are not limited to the religious.

“This positive correlation…holds for non-Christian religious traditions as well as for people with no religious preference, although only a small fraction of the latter group attends religious services frequently,” Lim added.

The significance of the study’s findings is evident considering its implications on life satisfaction as a whole.

“Religious service attendance is one of the strongest predictors of both domains of subjective wellbeing, along with income and employment status,” reported Lim.