November 10th, 2011
05:10 PM ET

Study links regular religious service attendance, outlook on life

By Gabe LaMonica, CNN

(CNN) - A new study shows that attending religious services regularly can mean a more optimistic, less depressed, and less cynical outlook on life.

In a follow-up to its 2008 report that found that attending services increases life expectancy, the Women's Health Initiative observational study based this report on a survey of 92,539 post-menopausal women over 50. The participants made up an ethnically, religiously, and socioeconomically diverse group.

According to the report, to be published this week in the Journal of Religion and Health, those who attend services frequently were 56% more likely to have an optimistic life outlook than those who don't and were 27% less likely to be depressed. Those who attended weekly were less likely to be characterized by cynical hostility, compared with those who did not report any religious service attendance.

"We looked at a number of psychological factors; optimism, depression, cynical hostility, and a number of subcategories and subscales involving social support and social strain," said Eliezer Schnall an associate professor of psychology at Yeshiva University in Manhattan, who headed the initiative.

"The link between religious activity and health is most evident in women, specifically older women," he said.

The research focused on an important group, because "as they are living longer," Schnall said, "seniors are a growing group, and women have longer lifespans than men."

The study, funded by the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute, National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, "unlike many other previous studies," said Schnall, broke down the idea of positive social support into subcategories.

Emotional support and informational support, such as sitting down with a priest or a rabbi to speak about difficulties; tangible support, like someone driving a participant to a doctor; affectionate support; and positive interaction were all examined in the initiative.

"There's evidence from other studies to suggest religious involvement may be particularly important in enhancing social interaction," Schnall said.

But a "relatively new thought in the field," according to Schnall, called "social strain," encompasses negative social support. The hypothesis is that, "though some studies have suggested that attending religious services is beneficial in a host of ways, there also comes with it a social strain."

Though there has been much discussion around this "new area of inquiry," Schnall said, "I certainly believe, or to my knowledge, we are the first to look at this construct," social strain.

The researchers identified social strain by asking questions like:
- "Of the people that are important to you, how many get on your nerves?"
- "Of the people who are important to you, how many ask too much of you?
- And, "of the people who are important to you, how many try to get you to do things that you do not want to do?"

"We did not find that those who attend religious services where characterized by additional social strain," Schnall said.

To identify optimism, he said, participants were asked to rated the following questions on a five-point scale ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree:
- "In unclear times I usually expect the best,"
- "If something can go wrong for me, it will,"
- "I hardly ever expect things to go my way."

Optimism is "about perceived control ... positive expectations ... empowerment, a fighting spirit, lack of helplessness - those are general definitions," Schnall said.

He conceded people could take a different message from the survey's results. "Someone who really wanted to take issue with the study" could say the results came out the way they did "maybe because optimists are drawn to believe in the divine."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief

soundoff (708 Responses)
  1. mecanique de l'orange

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  4. trxsuspension

    Hello. everyone.
    would like to make new friends with you guys.

    November 28, 2011 at 11:12 am |
  5. Muneef

    Embracing Islam by a Female Judge in UK (less than 2 minutes):


    November 21, 2011 at 1:48 am |
  6. mehmet

    Yes, if there is anything astonishing in the world, it is such denial. For the endless aspects of order and instances of wisdom in the beings in the universe testify to His existence and Unity, so that even the most profoundly ignorant can understand what blindness and ignorance it is not to see or not to recognize Him. I might even say that among the people of unbelief, the Sophists, who are supposed to be stupid because they denied the universe's existence, are the most intelligent. For since on accepting its existence, it was not possible not to believe in God and its Creator, they started to deny the universe's existence. They denied themselves as well. Saying, "There is nothing," they abdicated their intelligences, and being saved from the boundless unreasonableness-under the guise of reason-of the other deniers, they in one sense drew close to reason.

    November 16, 2011 at 3:12 am |
  7. Muneef

    Hi to all whom I miss so much...
    Have had mentioned to you that I had a stroke and was rushed to Hospital where I remained unaware of self for few days...thankfully I got out of that with out losing any of my abilities...now am in Aden,Yemen where from I will fly to Amman,Jordan for further medical testes and attention...
    Am not sure whether I will be able to remain in communication with you but assure you as many know of my Reality and genuinity .... Love you all whether we agree or disagree with each other, will fly in few hours ...bye ...

    November 14, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Oh my. Muneef. I do recall seeing one post fro you recently, but don't recall mention of a stroke. All the best to you, man. And all the best to your family! (And I am happy to see that your mental faculties are obviously still sharp, as you post lucidly in a foriegn language!!!!)

      November 14, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • Muneef

      John Rich.

      Still I wish you all the richness there are...and thank you for your best wishes...my English is a Yemeni English....

      November 19, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
  8. myklds


    Thank You...Be well.

    November 14, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  9. happypoet

    So many unhappy people posting on the belief blog. Science tells us why. This is not the only scientific study. Science is fact.

    November 14, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  10. happypoet

    This study found participation on an ongoing basis regardless of denomination was beneficial to the attendee. There is disquiet about this phenomena because it raises questions about nihilism. Another 2011 study, found people who prayed were less angry & aggressive, even if they did not attend religious services. Lowering levels of hostility is an overall societal gain. This is very interesting, I guess there are shades of gray for this too, rather than black & white.

    November 14, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • John Richardson

      Meditation and cat napping can help with the old aggression thing, too!

      November 14, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  11. theoldadam


    There is a real future to believe in rather than just becoming compost.

    November 14, 2011 at 1:41 am |
  12. happypoet

    The study cited by the article found the women who have a more active spirit-life have less depression than the ones who are not active. There can be many reasons this helps them, but the most likely is putting their troubles aside for a certain period of time regularly & feeling supported in their endeavors. Interesting that feeling a connection or spirit-bond has that effect.

    November 14, 2011 at 12:01 am |
  13. ___.__

    Humans wrote the bible.

    Prayer is a placebo.

    Atheists are generally smarter than religious people.

    The bible supports slavery, sacrificing your child, and stoning people to death.

    Morality does not come from the bible.

    Most of the 10 commandments aren't even laws..

    November 13, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
  14. Antoaneta Emanuilova Pateva

    Cathedrals are so important national places where presumably like-minded people gather for holidays and on a daily basis. Sincerely religious people are never really cynical, have moral barriers for wrong-doings within themselves, never lose their way and never lose their moral and ethical values whatever it takes. That makes them spiritually and practically stronger. Religious people achieve moral integrity and moral independence. Thus societies need more people of this kind.

    November 13, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  15. LEVP

    GOD is IT.
    IT does not care what you believe or not.
    IT only cares how you treat all living creatures.
    Love your neighbor as yourself.
    That is all IT is.

    November 13, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • Rev. Rick

      You nailed it. This all God asks of us (not demands of us). This is what I call TRUE fundamentalism, and it works.

      November 14, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Toby

      "That is all IT is."

      No, it's not the bible is our instruction book on how we are to love God. We do not get to tell God how we are going to love him. There are more rules than those simple ones you stated. You need to go back are read ALL of his word and not a few sentences. That is what is so wrong with the younger generation they are making up God as they go along.

      November 14, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  16. Reality

    One wonders why older men were not included in the study.----------–

    November 13, 2011 at 7:51 am |
    • Rev. Rick

      Because most older men were too grumpy to fill out the questionnaire.

      November 14, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  17. Muneef

    @Alien Orifice.

    I am for real and that is my first name...!

    November 13, 2011 at 7:46 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.