Jamila Bey and I had Dale McGowan on our radio show on Tuesday and he mentioned a study from 2010 that found that the primary reason why those who went to church reported higher levels of satisfaction was due to the social aspects, the community and the support network formed there. Here’s a report on that study:
Religious people are more satisfied with their lives than nonbelievers, but a new study finds it’s not a relationship with God that makes the devout happy. Instead, the satisfaction boost may come from closer ties to earthly neighbors.
According to a study published today (Dec. 7) in the journal American Sociological Review, religious people gain life satisfaction thanks to social networks they build by attending religious services. The results apply to Catholics and mainline and evangelical Protestants. The number of Jews, Mormons, Muslims and people of other religions interviewed was too small to draw conclusions about those populations, according to study researcher Chaeyoon Lim, a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“We show that [life satisfaction] is almost entirely about the social aspect of religion, rather than the theological or spiritual aspect of religion,” Lim told LiveScience. “We found that people are more satisfied with their lives when they go to church, because they build a social network within their congregation.”
This is a similar finding to what was found in the Non-Religious Identification Survey, done by my friend Luke Galen, a psychology professor at Grand Valley State University and part of the CFI Michigan group. That study found that the real distinction in terms of satisfaction and happiness was not between the religious and the non-religious, it was between those who are part of a community and those who are not. Members of secular communities like CFI Michigan, which was the first group to be studied, were very similar in that regard to members of church communities in terms of satisfaction and happiness.
This is why it’s so important to build secular communities. It’s also important to build a variety of different types of secular communities and to have a diversity of opportunities within those communities. In CFI Michigan, for instance, we host many different types of events — lectures, service projects, casual get togethers (Skeptics in the Pub, for example), Living Without Religion support groups, and Cafe Inquiry discussions. And though there is a good deal of overlap, a lot of people only go to one or two of those and not to the rest. Different types of people have different needs and preferences. Some may choose to go to a Unitarian church because they like the routine or the music or some other aspect of it. Others wouldn’t want that at all. Different activities for different people.
But building those communities is very important, whether they are based around CFI or American Atheist chapters, Secular Student Alliance groups, meetups or whatever else. Having people around us to lean on in difficult times, to celebrate our triumphs, or just to talk to about issues that interest us, is a huge component of a happy life for most of us. So if you’re not in such a community, seek one out. And if there isn’t one in your area, start one up. It will enrich your life as enormously as being part of CFI Michigan has mine.