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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. *frank*

    It's probably the case that those with their heads on the straightest are never accounted for in these sorts of studies because they don't participate in them out of contempt....

    November 11, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
  2. Kris

    Frankly, all organized religion ought to be ashamed of themselves for failing. Instead of opening their arms and offering welcome to Gays, and giving refuge to abused children that the Catholic Church covered up they push people away and make them feel like they are sick and broken. In the case of the Catholic Church they covered up child molestors. Organized Religion has a lot to be ashamed of. They speak as if they have a hot line directly to JESUS and have used their fake connection to hurt and demonize people who would have gladly given their life to be a part of a church. They chose to Hurt rather than accept. Shame on you Organized religion. I'm the one who will go to heaven and you will be the one standing before God w/blood on your hands....You are mean, hateful and hurtful. The biggest joke will be on you for the way you treated me. The same hell you tried to push me in will be the same hell you rot in. "Love the sinner, hate the sin...blah, blah, blah". Words you used to cover up your own hateful souls.

    November 11, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
    • NurseK

      IMO it's quite telling that desperate people in this nation tend to beg for help at the entrances to malls, not churches.

      November 11, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
  3. anobody

    Of course, its always better in the land of make believe.

    November 11, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
  4. Prometheus

    In a related study, it was found that if you did NOT go to church regularly but practiced "Concealed Carry" instead you were nearly 50% more optimistic than regular church goers who did not and 89% more optimistic than people who did neither.

    November 11, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
  5. NurseK

    Frankly, I'm not all that surprised or impressed with this "news" because a person who is living under the delusion that they are the special pets of an omnipotent being who will protect them from their enemies, allow them to cheat death, etc, have turned their back on the reality of life as an evolving species with "no hint that anyone is coming from elsewhere to save us from ourselves." Also, going to a place every week where you're told how much better you and the others there are than all those who aren't part of your cult is bound to leave those people feeling more optimistic.

    November 11, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  6. PastySkinCancer

    Pasty skins don't believe in God anymore. They believe in devil worship (crapitalism).

    November 11, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • HuuuurrrDuuuuurDeeerp

      U Mad, Minority Bro?

      November 11, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
  7. QS

    Let's try looking at this from a biblical perspective – "...he who increases knowledge, increases sorrow..."

    It could easily be concluded that if....IF....non-believers are more prone to being cynical and having a worse outlook on life and the world in general, it's because they, unlike believers, seek out knowledge of the world that believers tend not to.

    And by increasing your own knowledge of the world and what happens in it, how can anybody NOT become at least a little cynical?

    My point, is that if those 90K+ women over the age of 50 had more knowledge of their real world, they would more than likely be less optimistic.

    November 11, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
    • *frank*

      They're probably all on so many pills for depression, hot flashes, and high blood pressure that their heads are spinning and they don't know what the F is going on.

      November 11, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • THE BIBLE IS GARBAGE

      IT'S AVATAR DEPRESSION SYNDROME.

      http://theweek.com/article/index/105003/avatar-depression-syndrome

      AVATAR AND HEAVEN AREN'T REAL. NEITHER IS GOD.

      November 11, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  8. RichXX

    Children are excited and optimistic about Santa Claus coming. But unlike children, most religious folks go to their graves without finding out it is all fake. Perhaps we should make the poem "Night before Christmas" a book of the bible so children don't have to give up there faith in Santa.

    November 11, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • Steve

      Yeah, whatever...it is people like you that make this world a sad place. Dumba$$

      November 11, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • ddd

      @Steve. Haha, so true! What a pathetic little man he is.

      November 11, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • Andy Anderson

      Notice that neither of RichXX's detractors argued against his point.

      Maybe it's time to grow up and join the rest of us in 2011?

      November 11, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
  9. bmben

    Why are so many atheists posting on a religion blog?
    Because their "faith" is righteous indignation coupled with schadenfreude. In order to fix their fragile self esteems, they have to find fictional enemies to mock.

    Why do atheists seem to dominate the internet?
    Because it is the only place they can be social. Hatred and intolerance tends to be unpopular face to face.

    They are sad. They have my love and my pity.

    November 11, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • *frank*

      leap much?

      November 11, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • Maya

      Self-righteousness, anyone? You seem to delight in looking down on and mocking others. You condemn atheists who post here, but you're doing exactly what you condemn them for doing.

      Wait, I forgot, it's okay for YOU to do it because you believe in God and are therefore better than atheists.

      November 11, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Why do you think that lying is okay? That's what you're doing when you as.sign motives to people based on your personal opinion, rather than fact.

      Why is it that some christians seem to think god won't see them lie if they do it anonymously on internet. What a bunch of hypocrites!

      November 11, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • QS

      This is what some would call self-reinforced delusion.

      November 11, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
    • anobody

      Whoa, just who exactly practices intolerance and hatred? Seems the collective better take along look in the mirror.

      November 11, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • bmben

      LOLOLOLOLOL!!! Truth hurts.

      November 11, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
    • THE BIBLE IS GARBAGE

      BM (SHORT FOR BOWEL MOVEMENT I PRESUME), YOU THINK ATHEISTS ARE SOCIALLY INEPT AND FLOCK TO THE INTERNET. BETTER THAT THAN BEING RELIGIOUS AND KILLING PEOPLE FOR THEIR FAITHS.

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

      Well, it looks like you've found fictional heros so how can you critize anyone about fictional enemies?

      November 11, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
    • Andy Anderson

      You are saying things you know are not true. Those are called 'lies' and that makes you a liar.

      Do you remember what God says about liars?
      Psalm 101:7

      November 11, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
    • bmben

      Atheists. Officially the easiest fools to troll on the internet. LOLOLOLOLOL.

      PS. Hitler.

      November 12, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  10. Chloe

    Funny – I'm an optimist, I'm not depressed, and I'm studying Buddhism after being disillusioned by the Christian faith. I actually was more depressed when I was a Christian! I found too many Christains made God their scapegoat when something went wrong by saying it was "God's will" instead of accepting that it might possibly have been their own fault. I don't attend any kind of services at the moment, but I have a lot of wonderful friends and family. I'd like to see the raw data from this study – these kinds of articles always present skewed data to support some preformed conclusion. (Like the day care study that said kids who attended day care were more aggressive – and the data was something like .5% more aggressive with a margin of error of 3%)

    November 11, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
  11. Clint

    Big news. Study proves faithful have faith.

    Story at 11.

    November 11, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
  12. Duce

    I'm still on Carlin's "pray to Joe Pesci" idea. And you know what? Identical results...

    November 11, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
    • QS

      Man I miss that guy!

      November 11, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
  13. jj

    I'm sure I would be optimistic if I believed in an imaginary many in the sky as well. Unfortunately, we have real issues to deal with and can't spend all my time pretending that everything will be ok

    November 11, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
  14. Judia

    Who said the word of God is garbage? May God forgive you and open your eyes to see that He is indeed REAL.

    How can you see God when you have no respect for the word of God?

    Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand?

    November 11, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
    • Ummm

      "How can you see God when you have no respect for the word of God? "

      You do get you can't respect something that doesn't exist. Do you respect Tinker Bell, the Tooth Fairy? No of course not.

      November 11, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • johnborg

      You are establishing a theodicy – an explanation for meaning-threatening experiences. You state: Why would someone honor God if they don't trust the Word of God? Rather than engaging in discussion, you encircle your self in a bubble which none of us can pop. You fell self by making a claim like that. Historically, the Bible is a text, written by many individuals, from many different standpoints, edited hundreds of times, and not written by the authors it claims to be written by. Which is fine for me. It makes a great work of fiction.

      November 11, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I don't say your bible is garbage. I just say it carries the same weight as the mythologies of other cultures. However, I have always found that the fables of polytheistic societies were a lot more interesting than the christian mythology.

      November 11, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • QS

      I've always been a firm believer that respect is earned, not given away. As a gay man I've never gotten respect from your people, your book or your version of god....maybe if somebody started a campaign to end the religious intolerance and discriminatory treatment of gay people you would start seeing more respect heading your way. 🙂

      November 11, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • Andy Anderson

      Judia,

      I saw your Freudian slip with the question mark there at the end. It is telling.
      Can you demonstrate the truth of your claims about your god? If not, why do you expect people like me to take you seriously?

      November 11, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
    • TR6

      “How can you see God when you have no respect for the word of God? “

      How can you see UFOs when you do not respect (believe in) them?
      How can you see ghosts when you do not respect (believe in) them?
      How can you see fairies when you do not respect (believe in) them?

      Repent! Believe! And you too will see the invisible pink unicorn

      November 11, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
  15. Duce

    Study: Church goers more ignorant

    November 11, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
  16. The Half Baked Lunatic

    'god' is an idiotic idea promoted by immoral people to control and pacify the weak minded. Maybe it's easy to be happy when you're delusional!

    November 11, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
    • Chris

      And history has shown that when atheists gain absolute power as in the communist countries of the 20th century, only the total loss of freedoms, death of millions, and lack of any moral values has resulted. You atheists have nothing to offer, only hopelessness and denial.

      November 11, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
    • Clint

      I don't see the word "atheist" anywhere in his post.

      As a non-religious person (not an atheist nor and sgnostic nor any other name you want to conjure up), I tend to agree with him. Of course those who think there is really a "god" will also think the world is a better place, even though it isn't.

      Religious blinders keep people thinking everything is O.K., no matter how bad it gets.

      Reallity check, sometimes life sucks, no matter who or what you believe in. That's just life. Non-religious folks are just more realistic about life.

      No big news here. The study just proved religous people are in fact, brain washed to think everything will be fine.

      November 11, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
    • Get Real

      No, Chris, you are confusing the term "tyrant". Tyrants of any stripe are horrific. Look up some stories about Franco's rule in Spain, or the religious dictators of any of the Muslim-run countries.

      November 11, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
  17. Pllllbbbbttt.....

    More optimistic and more delusional....hey, maybe they're somehow related? Nah........

    November 11, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
  18. A christian

    Ah the belief blog, A place where atheists go to bash religous of all faiths.... kinda gives you a funny feeling ... right ... there .... like a giant gas pain....

    November 11, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • THE BIBLE IS GARBAGE

      LOL SOMEONE REPORTED MY POST. REALITY IS A TOUGH PILL TO SWALLOW.

      TO QUOTE THE WORDS OF A MAN WHO BASED HIS ENTIRE LIFE TO PROBLEM SOLVING –

      "THAT FUNNY FEELING IS CALLED REALITY. IT'S WHEN YOU REALIZE THAT THERE'S NO GOD TO ANSWER YOUR PRAYERS AND YOU KNOW YOU HAVE TO FIX YOUR OWN PROBLEMS INSTEAD OF BEING LAZY."

      November 11, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • NurseK

      Christianity, a place where idolators go to learn religious bigotry.

      A person living a glass house shouldn't throw stones.

      November 11, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
  19. JohnQuest

    I would think they would get similar results from anyone attending any type of organized social events, e.i. people that attend a weekly book club.

    November 11, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Every time I see your screen name, I remember the old cartoon. Johnny Quest was my favorite when I was a kid.

      November 11, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      Thanks, Mine Too. I think of a small town in Louisiana when I see your screen name

      November 11, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • J.W

      I think there was an old actress named Tallulah Bankhead. I bet tallulah looks just like her.

      November 11, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I named myself after a cat I had for 18 years. She was a cranky, opinionated thing. I figured it fit.

      November 11, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • craig54

      The bond between believers is an eternal bond, we all are followers of Christ. So it it not just a social interaction. It is a spiritual interaction between the congregation and our Saviour and each other.The bond is eternal, unbroken and strong.

      November 11, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • tallulah13

      That's funny, Craig. My sister finally left the chuch she had attended for years, because the membership was too cliquish and more interested in appearances then in doing anything 'christ-like'.

      November 11, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  20. tallulah13

    This is a really limited survey, and the headline is misleading. All we can gather from this study is that individuals of a certain gender and a certain age group enjoy social activity. Wow. That's a world-shaker. I would be interested in a more inclusive study, that contains all age and gender variables, and includes secular organizations in their rating.

    November 11, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • warmesTghosT

      Beside the glaringly obvious psycho/sociological benefits behind a healthy social network (of any type, spiritual or secular), the university that conducted this study is religious. I'm somehow not surprised they came to this conclusion.

      November 11, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • J.W

      They could do something like find religious people who do not attend any church for one reason or another, but still believe in god(s). Then compare those with people who are not religious. Or perhaps have some question on the survey about how much they go to church to socialize or whether they go there to learn and pray or what.

      November 11, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • A christian

      But the fact that that social activity, attending church, bothers you ... would you be more accepting if it were getting loaded at a bar?

      November 11, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • THE BIBLE IS GARBAGE

      GOING TO CHURCH MEANS PRAYING AND WORSHIPING SOMETHING THAT ISN'T THERE. AT LEAST BEER IS REAL.

      November 11, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • tallulah13

      No, christian. I would be happy if they cited a more complete study, instead of claiming that a study limited to post-menopausal women is sufficient for one-size-fits-all. For instance, why is there no input from men?

      November 11, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • TR6

      “to be published this week in the Journal of Religion and Health,”

      You’ve got to remember where this thing is being published. Might as well be the “journal of Christian fantasies and delusions” or the “journal of true UFO abductions”

      November 11, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
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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.