Very religious people are the happiest and experience the highest sense of well-being, according to massive data compiled by Gallup. "Very religious" people in Gallup's research are those who go to a church service regularly.
People who go to church regularly tend to make more money and are healthier.
This relationship is based on an analysis of more than 676,000 interviews as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.
Jews and Mormons have the highest well-being of any of the faith groups examined in the analysis.
Those who have no religious identity is the fastest growing demographic in the United States. At a Gallup presentation (video embedded below), the panelists were unable to isolate causation for wellness and church attendance, speculating that the social institution — church and friends — seems to be the key, not necessarily the type of religion or prayers.
Dr. Chaeyoon Lim, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin, noted that most Americans like Saturday the most, but for regular churchgoers, Sunday is the best day of the week. He found that of the regular churchgoers who report happiness and well-being, they had close friends in their church environment. Regular churchgoers who did not have close friends at church were less happy than those who never go to church at all. Dr. Lim said that the number of close friends that a person has in church explains about 80-85 percent of the correlation between church attendance and life satisfaction (starting at around 22:30 in the video below).
"So it's not really about going to church and singing along and listening to the sermon," Dr. Lim explained. "It's about having the social networks and friendship networks in church that seems to explain the relationship between religion and life satisfaction."
Whether people experienced God's presence in everyday life did not seem to be a factor in life satisfaction, nor did the belief system or theology explain the data. Dr. Lim said it was the social and friendship networks that were consistent, but wondered if there was a difference between having church friends vs. having secular friends.
In 2003, surveyors asked people if they had close friends in non-church functions, like professional organizations or in the work environment, and found that there was an improvement in life satisfaction. People who had more close friends in church, however, had the highest level of life satisfaction, indicating that there was something special about church friends. Lim admitted that he does not go to church.
In other countries (starting at about 29 minutes in the video below), Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden did very well in the happiness factor, and they are non-religious countries. The Scandinavian countries are consistently high in reported well-being, noted Dr. Angus Deaton, Professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University. "Poorer places are much more religious than richer places," he concluded when looking at religiosity and well-being by countries, "which is consistent with those secularization stories that as you get richer, you don't need religion so much. […] There's a paradox here, which is that people who are more religious tend to have higher well-being than people who are less religious. But countries that are more religious tend to have worse outcomes than countries that are less religious." Deaton indicated that this paradox is true across the United States, too. People who are more religious tend to do better on a personal level, but the states that report being more religious tend to be worse off than those states that are not very religious.