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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. WhatWhatWhat?

    Some religious delusionists believe that when the "end times" come, all the unbelievers will be persecuted and killed. How does that sit with you? What happens when they go off the "deep end" and start making it come true? It would be easy if they only believed they were going to see Jebus in Heaven, then I would say, go for it. But no, they have to include killing everyone who doesn't believe their delusion. I don't see how any reasonable person could accept this from anyone.

    November 11, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
    • Lamar

      The key word is "*some* . The article sits with me pretty well, Christianity is a relgion of FAITH, HOPE and LOVE – plenty of reason to have a positive outlook on life.

      November 11, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
    • NurseK

      The "end times" are always upon all of us and many people experience armageddon every day. Literalists don't get the metaphors or the basic human psychology because they have taught idolatry instead of critical thinking.

      November 11, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
    • TR6

      @Lamar: Here is bible quote filled with Christian love and hope and faith for you

      And Moses said unto them “Have ye saved all the women alive?... Now therefore Kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known a man by lying with him, but all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves” Num 31:1-2, 9-11, 14-18

      November 11, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      "Some", meaning Christinsanity and Islame. I think that's it.

      November 11, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
  2. David

    Ignorance is bliss. That's nothing new.

    November 11, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
  3. Seriously?

    It's more likely that a persons outlook on life affects their church attandance & not the other way around.

    November 11, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
    • Lamar

      Yes, seriously.

      Or if what you say is true, then you're pretty much saying that athiests are more likely to be pessimistic and have a neegative outlook on life (which I am certain is true but not necessarily causal)

      November 11, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
    • MartinT

      There is NO evidence in the world that equates atheism to being cynical or unhappy... quite the opposite is true. Religions has VERY little to do with happiness. These kinds of studies are often done by religious groups to prove their worthiness to the world. Come on people, open your eyes and your heart and realize that happiness comes not from some god or religion, but from within one's own mind, one's on outlook on life, and one's ability to cope.

      November 11, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
    • Lamar

      A life without Faith, Hope and Love is pretty pretty depressing. Judging by all the angry comments that lurking athiest on the belief section of CNN its easy to see why Athiests are a grumpy, mean, acrimonious lot.

      November 11, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
    • GodPot

      "athiests are more likely to be pessimistic and have a neegative outlook on life"

      Twilight fans are more likely to be optimistic and have a positive outlook on coming back as a vampire.

      If you define "pessimism" as not believing you are going to be raised from the dead and define "negative outlook on life" as believing this life you have now is all you get so you better not waste it, then you are right. By your logic, you must be a pessimist for not believing you will be reincarnated, or sent to Valhalla or any of the non-Christian afterlife's.

      November 11, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
    • MartinT

      @ Lamar, I disagree with you. I am an atheist, I am nothing like what you attempt to portray ALL atheists as. I am about as un-grumpy as they come, the people I work with find me quite jolly, I attack life with a gusto that many of my christian friends NEVER will. I think that you are being narrow minded in your assessment of atheists. As to your definition of what is needed to live a fulfilled life, I again, do not agree with you at all. But, I support your right to feel that way, for sure.

      November 11, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
    • GodPot

      @Lamar – "A life without Faith, Hope and Love is pretty pretty depressing." And you Christians have a monopoly on Faith, Love & Hope then eh? You are even more delusional than I thought, no point in debating with a self absorbed sycophant living in a fantasy world.

      November 11, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
    • TR6

      “It's more likely that a persons outlook on life affects their church attandance & not the other way around.”

      I disagree, I’ve become much more optimistic, happier, self confident and outgoing since I left the church and became an atheist.

      Christianity is all about making you feel depressed and shameful because you are a sinner and then they sell you forgiveness and salvation as long as you become their slave

      November 11, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
    • MartinT

      "A life without Faith, Hope and Love is pretty pretty depressing. Judging by all the angry comments that lurking athiest on the belief section of CNN its easy to see why Athiests are a grumpy, mean, acrimonious lot."

      I am an atheist and I live a life of "faith", just not in some make believe god; instead I have faith in mankinds' spirit. As for HOPE, I have much hope that all of mankind will one day realize that there is a wonderful universe out there for us to wonder about, to study, and to believe in. Ah, the GREAT LOVE argument, why would you think that as an atheist I do not have LOVE. I have a wonderful wife, three beautiful children, two grandchildren and many friends. I LOVE my fellow man as much as, nay more than, many christians I know. Do not mistake being religious with being loving, you are sadly mistaken. Why would you say that atheists "lurk" on CNN's faith blog? We simply seek an open forum to discuss religion, it is often the religious who are mean, and closed minded. Peace.

      November 11, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
    • TR6

      @Lamar: “A life without Faith, Hope and Love is pretty pretty depressing”

      Exactly why I walked away from Christianity

      November 11, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
    • MartinT

      Well said TR6

      November 11, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
  4. b4bigbang

    sybaris said: That is a huge stretch to supplant the word "knowledge" with "science".
    Typical christards, always moving the goalposts".

    from Latin scientia knowledge, from scīre to know]. Look, who's the "tard" now flamer?

    Really, we need a smarter class of atheists here.

    November 11, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
    • David

      Did the Jews write the Old Testament in Latin? Or was it translated from Hebrew into Latin, by people who lived in a distinctly different society and imposed their own biases on the translation? The Hebrew word is for knowledge, they had no understanding of the scientific method. It is the same as what happened when the Hebrew word for grave, sheol (which described a state of non-consciousness), was transformed by later translators into the word hell, which comes from pagan mythology, based on their understanding of the lake of fire concept introduced in the New Testament.

      November 11, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
  5. Religious sects

    I did a study that found among churchgoers ignorance is bliss.

    November 11, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
    • NurseK

      Having grown up in a literalist Christian community, I can testify to the fact that ignorance was bliss. Back then I thought that there was someone out there to save us from ourselves and give us a way to cheat death. Someone else was responsible for deciding what was good and evil, someone else for creating heaven and hell, someone else responsible for the creation of love, mercy, justice, etc.

      Life is better outside the box and the view from here is practically infinite, but I must say that the box sure was a cozy little place.

      November 11, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
    • MartinT

      @NurseK, I grew up in the Deep South, the Bible Belt, where religion rules everyone's daily life in ways that are scary. I totally agree with your statement and analysis, very well put.

      November 11, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
    • TR6

      “I did a study that found among churchgoers ignorance is bliss.”

      Also unavoidable

      November 11, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
  6. DoggSho

    Stop censoring my posts !

    November 11, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
  7. WhatWhatWhat?

    Religion = Delusion
    Coexistence is futile.

    November 11, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
  8. b4bigbang

    Frank, are you saying nonsense re the string theory? If so, then how wht's your take on the universe? Another competing theory?

    November 11, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
  9. b4bigbang

    Sybaris, Here's the answer to your challenging me to show where the word science is in the Bible:

    Dan 1:4 (old testament)
    1 Tim 6:20 (new testament)
    you atheists are so lazy! Next time Google it yourself if ya dont believe me.

    November 11, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
    • sybaris

      That is a huge stretch to supplant the word "knowledge" with "science".

      Typical christards, always moving the goalposts

      November 11, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Yep. You're right. The word "science" is in the bible. (At least in the English translation). There are also references to dragons and unicorns in the bible.

      November 11, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
  10. b4bigbang

    Speaking of atheism, i saw a show on the educational channel the other night where a top scientist said that we're pretty much at the limit of what we can ever hope to prove experimentally re the nature of reality (space/time). He said that the best theory we have right now (string theory) will probably remain unprovable because the size of the strings are so small there might not ever be a way to observe them.

    November 11, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • *frank*

      That's nonsense. All of it.

      November 11, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I since you're a christian, it's okay for you to take everything at face value. If one person says something, it must be true.

      November 11, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Narf. What I MEANT to say was "I since you're a christian, it's okay for you to take everything at face value. If one person says something, it must be true."

      November 11, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • TR6

      In 1813 there was a serious movement to close the patent office because everything useful had already been invented

      November 11, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
  11. b4bigbang

    Along those same lines: A dead man asked Jesus if he would raise him from the dead so he could warn his brothers about hell. Jesus said "they have the Scriptures to warn them". The man said "yes, but they won't believe the Scriptures". Jesus replied "if they don't believe the Scriptures, they wouldn't believe even if a man rose from the dead."

    November 11, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • *frank*

      That's incredibly stupid.

      November 11, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • Mitchell Moore

      @b4bigbang
      That joke makes no sense. If a person I knew rose from the dead and told me there is an afterlife, there is a heaven, a hell and a God, I would definitely believe them because they had been there and seen it. Any sensible person would. But, believing some book written 2,000 years ago by a bunch of primitives who thought the world was flat? Don't think so.

      November 11, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • sybaris

      Smart men

      November 11, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • peick

      MitchellMoore, you're missing the point. First, it's not a joke, it's a quote or paraphrase from Jesus. Second, you don't seem to understand the state of the human heart. We don't believe things that take away from our sense of self-determination. Jesus rightly saw that observing a miracle won't change someone's heart. We're just too depraved.

      November 11, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      Depraved? No, it's because miracles don't exist, and never have, and so anyone espousing them is insane.

      November 11, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
  12. Nam Vet

    This study is bad news for the wingnuts. They depend on pessimism among the religious right church goers.

    November 11, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
  13. b4bigbang

    Cal said: "...trying to prove that he does exist is proving a negative, since there is not a shred of prove of his existence it is upon the theist to prove that god exists, not the other way around..."

    Actually, it's wrong-headed to try to "prove" God exists, at least to unbelievers. Wrong-headed (an exercise in futility), because God declares in the Bible that he won't allow himself to be proven scientifically to unbelievers. However the Bible does declare that there is proof when it says "the heavens declare the glory of God".

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

      "God declares in the Bible that he won't allow himself to be proven scientifically to unbelievers."

      That doesn't even make sense and I challenge you to show where the word "science" or anything using "science" as the root appears in the bible.

      November 11, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
    • Jon

      Haha quite clever. That's like saying there's an invisible purple monkey that follows me. He made himself impossible to prove scientifically. Personally, I prefer a monkey over an old guy who kills people.

      November 11, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Then your god has only himself to blame when people don't believe in him. That's a pretty lame god you worship.

      November 11, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • CSMinDC

      Luke was a doctor. Astronomers came to see baby Jesus. Moses was a builder as was the people of Babel. Paul was a tent maker. Lydia was a professional cloth maker. Joesph a carpenter. John a surveyor. Noah a shipbuilder.

      Anymore?

      November 11, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • Mitchell Moore

      Wow, some proof. Especially when the word "science" isn't written anywhere in the Bible.

      November 11, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
  14. BellaTerra66

    Regular attendance at a church gives a person a community and a sense of belonging and the assurance that when one dies one is going to 'heaven'. So why wouldn't church attendees be more positive people? I'd go but I don't choose to live in La La Land. Come to think of it, it isn't La La Land. The well-to-do and/or the attendees whose family has attended the church for generations usually rule the church. And then there are the 'cliques". And then there are the people who walk around as though they were holier than everyone else. Yes, I may not have as positive an outlook as church attendees but at least I don't live in illusion and I also don't have to put up with their S. Many people who go to church don't live their faith Monday through Saturday (unless everyone in the workforce in The US don't go to church). People, life is tough. Painful. 80% of the world's population go to bed hungry. Most countries (and ours is No. 1 or close to it) still think that war is the way to solve their differences. Politicians lie through their teeth. Old people are dying alone. I refuse to go to church which will tell me that God is in HIS heaven and all is right with the world. So I die a little earlier than church attendees - so what.

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

      Wow! Talk about being judgemental, negative, insecure, hurting, unable to give, incapable of intelligent analysis, eager to drag red herrings (look it up) into the discussion. Hope you find something in life to give you at least a little joy.

      November 11, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
    • Mitchell Moore

      BellaTerra66 made perfect sense without being "judgemental, negative, insecure, hurting, unable to give", etc. Sounded reasonable, rational and realistic to me. He's not counting on some "invisible friend" to see him through the dark times. He's willing to pull himself through them on his own. Makes perfect sense and a realistic way to get through this life.

      November 11, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
    • TR6

      Sounds like you went to the same church I was forced to attend. Mine had all those same people

      November 11, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
  15. PDEngineer

    Only a true Christian is comforted by the fact that Jesus' poop smells like crap, like everyone else.

    November 11, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
  16. SK-B

    The article does not mention anything about the control group with whom regular church-attenders were being compared.

    Did the study require that the group of non-church-goers regularly attended a non-religious group? In other words, is the better outlook attributable to participation in a religious group, or is it a simply a function of social participation? If someone regularly attends a weekly secular group, would that also contribute to their optimistic outlook?

    November 11, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Exactly. I posed the same question. I'd bet that AA members, American Legionnaires, members of the Lions Club, the community Civic Club, the members of the Humane Society and other groups would be equally positive and optimistic. It's not belief in God that benefits the members, it's the sense of 'belonging', the camaraderie, the united purpose, the similar goals and views.

      Really, how hard is that to grasp?

      November 11, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • Robert

      Then fund a study on the aforementioned and report your results.

      November 11, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Or Robert, we scrutinize the study that has been presented and point out the flaws in the premise - something the editors of the belief blog should have done before they decided to post it.

      November 11, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Why should I fund a study? I don't have anything to prove. You, on the other hand, do.

      November 11, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
  17. QS

    I need no shepherd for I think and reason...and I am not a sheep,
    I shall want only what serves humanity best;
    I lie down in green pastures because I choose to, not because anything makes me.
    I swim in still waters, I need not be led beside them;
    If a soul exists it is mine and is for me to restore how I see fit.
    Paths of righteousness will never fail to lead a person astray…
    especially for His name’s sake.

    I will walk through many valleys, it’s called life;
    the shadow of death follows one and all, no matter where we walk.
    I fear evil;
    evil is created by man, which is to be feared far more than any of the countless versions of god;
    your rod and your staff do not comfort me as they are herding tools...and I am not a sheep.
    I would be arrogant to think goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, for I am human and we make mistakes.
    I shall not dwell in any house that believes me to be nothing more than an animal which must be told where to go and when.

    If this view of the world makes me cynical, so be it.

    November 11, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
    • peick

      Sheep do not know that they are dumb; hence, the need for a shepherd.
      Who told you what serves humanity best? Do you imply some sort of moral code that applies to all of us?
      Do you believe in free will? That sounds like a position. Prove it.
      Did you teach yourself to swim, or did your parents?
      How do you get to choose your own destiny when you don't choose your parents, race, genetics, time of birth, opportunities, etc....?
      You have to define righteousness with reference to something higher than yourself. Please identify that standard.
      How do you find room for pride in facing the valleys of life if everyone else walks through them, too?
      You have to define evil with respect to good. But to define good, you're back to that pesky concept of a moral standard that you can't create yourself if it's to have any authority over anyone else.
      I'm sorry you are afraid of evil. That's only because you think you face it alone.
      If you are not a sheep, why do you have the same outlook as the majority of Americans as well as the entertainment industry?
      You are arrogant to believe that you made yourself, so think what you will it won't diminish your arrogance.
      Who said that being human excuses your mistakes? And define a mistake. Is there a moral standard? Who forgives your failures?
      The culture where you live tells you in no uncertain terms that you are nothing more than an animal. When has evolution ever told you that you had a soul or importance?

      November 11, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
  18. b4bigbang

    A few atheists posting about the "non-reality" of the Judeo-Christian world view. Seems like you're trying to prove a negative, ie God doesn't exist. Pretty impossible undertaking i think.

    November 11, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • Cal

      No believing in God is what is not natural, therefore trying to prove that he does exist is proving a negative, since there is not a shred of prove of his existence it is upon the theist to prove that god exists, not the other way around...

      November 11, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
    • Robert

      Cal-using the scientific method, you have to prove something doesn't exist for it to be true. So, come back when you can prove God doesn't exist. Thanks!

      November 11, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
    • Jon

      Robert, you don't prove something doesn't exist. You prove it does. I can say that Zeus lives on the moon and he is the one true god. But until you prove he exists, he is just as useless as the God christians believe.

      November 11, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • sybaris

      Um, the default mode is non-belief. You are not born believing in any god. You are taught or usually assimilated into the prevailing belief system of your environment which does not inherently provide veracity. So again, it is up to the believer to prove the existence for what they believe, not the unbeliever.

      November 11, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • tallulah13

      So what you are saying as that you don't need evidence. You believe pretty much everything that you are told, as long as that lie panders to your ego and makes you happy.

      Christians like to claim their god is real, but after thousands of years without a single shred of evidence, I think we can conclude that this is not a credible claim.

      November 11, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
    • TR6

      @ Robert: “Cal-using the scientific method, you have to prove something doesn't exist for it to be true. So, come back when you can prove God doesn't exist. Thanks!”

      So according to you we all must believe in unicorns, dragons, vampires, UFO abductions, sea monsters, the tooth fairy and every other ridiculous, illogical and nonsensical pipe dream any nut case cares to postulate until they are each individually proven to not exist.

      November 11, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
  19. JesusLovesYou

    John 3:16.

    November 11, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
    • sybaris

      That is one of the lamest verses in the bible. In context of everything else your god did in the bible it's like saying, "I screwed up and sacrificed myself to myself."

      November 11, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Barney loves you, too.

      November 11, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
    • tallulah13

      That would be the purple dinosaur, not the guy who is posting on this page. I didn't see his name before I posted. In no way did I intend to put words in the human Barney's mouth.

      November 11, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
  20. Bernie Lomax

    A religious person being happier than a non-religious person is no more to the point that a drunk person is happier than a sober one.

    November 11, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
    • ddd

      Yawn....At least come up with your own thoughts.

      November 11, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
    • Bernie Lomax

      "Yawn....At least come up with your own thoughts."

      If you are a religious person, that statement is a pearl of irony.

      November 11, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
    • RealityCheck

      Bernie is demonstrating how atheists are angry, bitter, and hateful. He accidentally proved the accuracy of the study.

      November 11, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • Bernie Lomax

      Angry, bitter, and hateful? Nah, we atheists just take our existence seriously because we do not live under the delusion of an afterllife. We enjoy being good people without the threat of eternal damnation.

      November 11, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Hey reality check (is that supposed to be ironic?), stop assigning your own motives to others.

      November 11, 2011 at 9:07 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.