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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. Muneef

    @Colin.

    Sorry was unable to answer before now..but thank you for asking and am now on my way to traveling abroad for medical attention....

    November 13, 2011 at 7:42 am |
  2. myklds

    To those who have faith, NO explanation is necessary. While to those who don't have (faith), NO explaination would be enough to satisfy its necessity.

    May God Bless all atheists with faith.

    November 12, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • BESUCHER

      "May God Bless all atheists with faith"

      Rather pray that the FEAR OF GOD will fall upon them, because IT is the begining of wisdom. After that comes faith, NOT before!

      November 12, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
    • Bob

      mykids: thanks for nothing, you ignoramus.

      November 12, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • Bob

      BESUCKER, so why again does your "loving", "omnipotent" sky fairy keep wanting to be feared, again? Ego problem or something, or is he just the vicious, mean jerk that your book of horrors bible says he is?

      November 12, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • happypoet

      Sigh, your rudeness to myklds makes it obvious that you are out of line here Bob. Learn to coexist peacefully. If you do not believe GOD exists, then why do you insult someone expressing their faith if it has no effect on you. I guess myklds GOD is going to sneak up on you, hanging FAITH around your neck while you sleep, BWHAHAHA! Please act like an adult, respect others' right to believe, even if you disagree with them.

      November 14, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • myklds

      @Bob

      Thanks for the compliment..

      May God Bless you with humility, peace and serinity that the too much pride and hate in your heart would cease.

      November 14, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • myklds

      @Besucher..

      Thanks for the reminder, but I believe and have faith that God's love is infinite and unconditional. He answers all prayers as long as it's for good cause.

      November 14, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  3. Chin Tu Fat

    Who the h e l l are Atheists to tell me what not to do? How can a cult like Atheism win peoples hearts when its demanding people to strip themselves of morality, honesty, brotherhood, charity, good deeds etc.? Atheism is pretty much doodoo.

    November 12, 2011 at 9:04 am |
    • Hmmm...

      @Chin Tu Fat – you seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of "atheism". Atheism is no more a cult than not believing the earth is flat is a cult or not believing in fairies (or trolls, bigfoot, etc.) is a cult. Atheism is not an ent1ty; it's not an organization; it's not a belief system; it's even a rather nonsensical word. Suspend your preconceived notions and fear for a short time and read something other that the bible. You may then begin to understand that, at this very moment, you too are an atheist.
      “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”
      – Stephen Roberts

      November 12, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • Real Deal

      Chin Tu Fat - "How can a cult like Atheism win peoples hearts when its demanding people to strip themselves of morality, honesty, brotherhood, charity, good deeds etc.?"

      Where on Earth did you see those demands? You didn't. You are lying.

      The ONLY thing different with atheists is not believing in a god or gods.

      The qualities of morality, honesty, brotherhood, charity, good deeds etc. are quite achievable without an imaginary supernatural being who doles out imaginary rewards and punishments.

      November 12, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Can you tell me this, Chin? Are you a christian? If so, then why do you and so many other christians feel compelled to lie when it is expressly forbidden by the bible?

      November 12, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
    • happypoet

      Atheists do get on this blog & tell everyone else what to do. There is a 1998 study that found people who pray daily are less angry. Just sayin.....

      November 14, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  4. b4bigbang

    Or to heal, like the benign socialism of western europe.

    November 12, 2011 at 1:30 am |
  5. b4bigbang

    Right hotairace, and it just goes to show that religion per se is often a neutral yet powerful tool. Like a gun, it can be used to feed people or hurt/kill people.
    Same can be said for people who use political theory to kill, like fascism or marxism

    November 12, 2011 at 1:28 am |
  6. b4bigbang

    HotAirAce Re: all hospitals, certainly not true here in Canada. Most are owned and operated by secular government."

    Sure today secular hospitals exist. My comment was phrased in the context of "throughout history". If you go back to the history of the hospital you'll see i'm right.
    Besides, i dont havta prove all or even most, the challenge was merely to show lasting benefit from religion.

    November 12, 2011 at 1:07 am |
    • HotAirAce

      Hospitals were initially founded by religion when religion was *the* dominant societal organization and when not to be part of a religion could get you killed. It is therefore easy for religion to claim many advancements because virtually everyone was, at least publicly, a member of some religion. As time goes on, religion's contributions are being seen for what they are (oppressive, devisive, mythological and controlling) and the secular world is delivering value with no "sky daddy" strings attached.

      November 12, 2011 at 1:21 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Around 100BCE in India, the heads of wealthy merchant families helped to setup what is perhaps the earliest system of civic hospitals.

      November 14, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  7. b4bigbang

    HotAirAce : "In a round-about sort of way, I think we agree – you have not shown that religion has a lasting positive benefit."

    Well, i could mention all those hospitals that have Christian denomination names in front of the word hospital, orphan and poverty relief, work, etc.

    In fact, i think practically all hospital thruout hist were started by the religious.

    November 12, 2011 at 12:54 am |
    • hippypoet

      religion is a fade... a long lasting fade i'll give a that, but a fade none the less!

      November 12, 2011 at 1:01 am |
    • HotAirAce

      Re: all hospitals, certainly not true here in Canada. Most are owned and operated by secular governments.

      November 12, 2011 at 1:01 am |
  8. b4bigbang

    Oh, and btw, ireland did well because of other factors besides tax laws, but yes, that was one of the biggies.

    November 12, 2011 at 12:39 am |
  9. b4bigbang

    HotAirAce

    @b4bigbang

    Ireland did well because of tax policies that encouraged foreign investment. Thy are no on the verge of economic collapse – research PIGS countries. The US Civil War was about 150 years ago -do you really believe its effects are still in play? The US South is known is The Bible Belt for good reason...

    A couple of things to say about this: I knew when i posted that someone would say ireland's not doing so well now. Irrelevent. I was correctly pointing out that geographic areas arent poor and uneducated everywhere religion is strong (thats so easy to prove with many other examples). Most if not the whole world is in recession now. We're in a down cycle, so what?

    Secondly, yes, i do believe the civil war, reconstruction, jim crow laws, etc, etc, have had a tremendously deleterious effect on the South. And in spite of it, there are a lot of great univs, research ctrs, people, etc down there.

    November 12, 2011 at 12:37 am |
    • HotAirAce

      In a round-about sort of way, I think we agree – you have not shown that religion has a lasting positive benefit.

      November 12, 2011 at 12:43 am |
    • happypoet

      There is also a 2011scientific study about reducing anger & hostility Hot Air Ace. The subjects were of all denominations & did not have to attend religious services, just pray. Logically, I can see that less acrimony would have a positive societal impact on communities. Plus a 1998 study found that subjects who attended religious services or prayed daily reduced the risk of hypertension 40% recovered from depression 70% faster. Cardiac patients had 23%-27% less major adverse cardiac events plus 33%-35% less death & readmission rates by being included in a prayer group. Plus immune response.....

      November 14, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  10. Reality

    And then there are Bill Gates and Warren Buffet who never go to church since both are atheists. One wonders why older men were not included in the study.----------------------------–

    November 12, 2011 at 12:02 am |
    • Guest

      If you'd do a little research, you'll find Warren Buffett describes himself as an agnostic. And Bill Gates attends church irregularly, but also appears to be agnostic. Big difference between an agnostic and an atheist.

      November 12, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • Reality

      Did the research. Both Buffet and Gates appear on lists of famous atheists but appear to edge on the subject when questioned about it. So we will make them "atheagnostiers"

      November 13, 2011 at 12:24 am |
    • happypoet

      But then, Jobs & Salinger are gone. Plus, Jobs died really young. He would also have died 7 years sooner at age 49 without that liver transplant when his cancer reoccurred in 2004. Male stats are always worse than female stats for longevity, so I think it might have widened the gap.

      November 14, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • happypoet

      Gates is only 56, Buffet is only 81, Jobs died at 56. Plus, I find I must correct myself. Salinger just had atheism attributed to him. It is unlikely he died an atheist however, because although he is quoted as saying he disliked some of the apostles, he claimed to be OK with Jesus. He was 91.

      November 14, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  11. rationalendeavour

    Look at all the nations on Earth – the highest standards of living are enjoyed by the most liberally secular. The lowest are in those countries where religion influences the culture to a high degree. The US is struggling with its standard of living, and the places at which we are the lowest-performing (Womens' and reproductive health, education, sciences) are the places where religion has the most to say. The most religious US states (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, the Carolinas) suffer the most poverty, the fewest hospitals per-capita, a stunted economy, high infant mortality, low high school graduation rates, low literacy. There are specific, direct cause-and-effect relationships between abstinence-only education and high infant mortality, teen pregnancy, STDs, and AIDS. I'm looking at YOU, Mississippi, with your "personhood" hypocrisy. Highest infant mortality in the developed world, but you want all the fetuses you're not going to care for to be protected against abortion. That's priorities for you!

    Where God rules, humans universally suffer. That's no god, it's a monster.

    November 11, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
    • Mr Chihuahua

      shut up you ba$tard! Tebow will lead them to the land of milk and honey lol!

      November 11, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
    • b4bigbang

      @rationalendeavour: Your theory has some holes in it, eg, Ireland is extremly religious and has some of the toughest anti-abortion laws in the world, and i learned in biz school that, at theyre an economic "tiger" country, with one of the best educated work forces.

      The reasons behind the south's being poor probably has more to do with the civil war and reconstruction than anyting else. Also the so is full of uneducated non-religious rednecks, that hate God. I know, I'm from Texas.

      November 12, 2011 at 12:06 am |
    • HotAirAce

      @b4bigbang

      Ireland did well because of tax policies that encouraged foreign investment. Thy are no on the verge of economic collapse – research PIGS countries. The US Civil War was about 150 years ago -do you really believe its effects are still in play? The US South is known is The Bible Belt for good reason...

      November 12, 2011 at 12:16 am |
    • hippypoet

      you said " The lowest are in those countries where religion influences the culture to a high degree."

      everything else...not so much, but this – well let me tell you how much i love this, 1000 ways, 2000 ways, 3000 ways... oh just pure delicous.... its like a food thats tasty and expensive with a hint of poor.. oh its sooo good, no really i love it, its soooo fuking true! But, like i said... EVERYTHING else is just crap, not worth reading, so move on! seriously, i say BRAVO on the sentence!

      November 12, 2011 at 12:19 am |
  12. b4bigbang

    @Talula13: You've widened my statement beyond what i was referring to. I was trying to talk about the possibility that we've come to the end of the observable road re the next smaller unit of existance, *not* saying we cant learn anything more about *anything*, and if you'll go back and re-read my posts about the show i saw, you'll see. It would be absurd for anyone to say that all new knowledge stops now period. Check out my posts and you'll see. If u really think i meant that then i must agree with Frank about the appletinis.

    November 11, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
  13. b4bigbang

    @rationalendeavour: Were u referring to me when you made the long statement about philosophy vs science vs religion?
    I do thank you for being the only one willing to talk shop about this. However i dont think i ever tried to tell anyone how the cow ate the philosphical cabbage, hence my repeated attempts to have a discussion in the 1st place.

    Also, i noticed u said a few things that dont stand up to reason. For example u said something about the source of religion (Christianity?) being whatever the preachers want to make us believe for monetary or control reasons, when in reality, historically most preachers have been of humble means, and that goes double for Jesus and the apostles, and it is their words we follow. If any preacher twists these words they're to be ignored.
    Also, you said the Goal was to believe? Actually the goal is to be like God by conforming to his image. Belief is simply the way to enter into fellowship with God (it means cling to, trust in, rely upon) in a similar way that a wife "believes" in her husband (and vice versa), assuming a good spouse.

    November 11, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
  14. rationalendeavour

    If Christians are happier, it's probably because they make life unhappy for the rest of us! All that peer approval is probably really good for the happiness index.

    November 11, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
  15. Tara

    Bible is garbage: Its people like YOU who won't be remembered.

    November 11, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
    • THE BIBLE IS GARBAGE

      LIKE I CARE.

      November 11, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
    • rationalendeavour

      no, it's people like YOU who won't be remembered, Tara! See how easy that game is? Neener neener! I'm right and you're wrong! Religion is a club for people who want to be right. It's a tree fort with "no milhouses allowed" for grownups. It exists only to exclude. If everyone on earth was part of your church, you'd need a schism, and a faction to hate, or the whole thing would fall apart.

      November 11, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
  16. Tara

    Ecclesiastes 2:16 For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered; in days to come both will be forgotten. Like the fool, the wise man too must die!

    November 11, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
    • THE BIBLE IS GARBAGE

      HOW MANY STUPID PEOPLE FROM HISTORY DO YOU REMEMBER?

      BUT I BET YOU REMEMBER THE NAMES OF EINSTEIN, SOCRATES, PLATO, NEWTON AND SO ON. JUST ONE EXAMPLE OF THE PLETHORA OF CRAP THE BIBLE GOT WRONG.

      November 11, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
    • Really???

      Everyone knows who Mother Theresa is. Everyone know who St Patrick is. Even though you can spout famous names. Fame cannot buy happiness. THE BIBLE IS, It still does not change the reality that women are less crabby & happier when they attend religious services regularly. Oh by the way, did you know every time an atheist mocks or derides a Christian it gives the Christian more points towards getting into heaven. So go ahead, attack me for my faith. Blessed are you who...........

      November 12, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • TR6

      Really???: “It still does not change the reality that women are less crabby & happier when they attend religious services regularly.”

      Typical Christian over exaggeration, The article only dealt with “post-menopausal women over 50”. I strongly suspect if they had a test group that fairly represented the female population, the results would have been quite different

      November 12, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  17. WOT

    A generation is 30 years. 1-30 is W. 31-61 is X. 62-92 is Y. 93-123 is Z. If X did not teach W and Y did not teach X and Z did not teach Y. Then W,X,Y, and Z knows nothing about the God of their FATHERS!

    November 11, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
    • Mr Chihuahua

      You're scaring me lol!

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

    Upon arriving at the medi-mar dispensary, he asked the bud-tender:

    "Hey, you got any of that new "Stephen Hawking"? I heard it's so good ya gotta be wheeled out after smoking it."
    Doug Wilson – Weeds

    November 11, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
  19. THE BIBLE IS GARBAGE

    EMO KIDS ARE HAPPIER WATCHING AVATAR. DOESN'T MAKE PANDORA REAL.

    November 11, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
  20. b4bigbang

    talulah13: ..."if there is an end to what can be discovered, it won't be reached in your lifetime or in several lifetimes."

    Source please? Or is this just your private translation or opinion of something you've heard or seen on TV? Nonsense! (Sound familiar? Ouch!)

    November 11, 2011 at 10:54 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I'm sorry. I was making an educated guess based on what remains unknown and what we have discovered in just the brief time that such discovery wasn't controlled by the church. Do you need an expert opinion to extrapolate the odds of running out of things to learn? I guess the first part of the equation would be the changing nature of the universe. The end of learning will have to wait until the universe stops changing. Even if it stopped today, we still lack the ability to investigate the nature of every planet in the universe. We have only recently discovered the existence other earth-like planets. We have no idea if there is life on any of them. We haven't traveled far enough from our planet to do much more than conjecture about what we can discover via microscope. Do you honestly think that we will learn everything about the universe in your lifetime?

      And that's just space. We are still trying to discover the causes and cures of hundreds of diseases. We still haven't discovered every species that lives on our own planet. Do I really need to continue? Do you really need an expert opinion on what for most people is common sense?

      Your initial post was a statement. It didn't ask a question or invite debate. It contained an ambiguous reference to an unknown statement from an unknown source on an unknown program on an unknown channel. Perhaps if you want answers, you should learn how to ask coherent questions.

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

      By the way, I did attempt to discover what the experts had to say about when we would run out of things to learn. I couldn't find any result, I'm guessing because the experts know how much there is left to learn.

      November 11, 2011 at 11:24 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.