Two new studies show the importance of friends in keeping body — and soul — together.
A study published in the December issue of the American Sociological Review reveals religion’s “secret ingredient” that makes people happier —friendships built in religious congregations.
In their study, Religion, Social Networks and Life Satisfaction, Chaeyoon Lim and co-author Robert D. Putnam looked at the link between religiosity and happiness.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t faith or prayer that made people feel better about themselves.
Rather it was the social aspects of religion that led to greater satisfaction, says Prof. Lim, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who led the study.
“To me, the evidence substantiates that it is not really going to church and listening to sermons or praying that makes people happier, but making church-based friends and building intimate social networks there,” said Prof. Lim, calling the evidence “compelling.”
According to Faith Matters, one-third of people who attend religious services every week, and who have three to five close friends in their congregation, said they are “extremely satisfied” with their lives.
The study defined extremely satisfied as a 10 on a scale ranging from one to 10.
In comparison, only 19% of people who attend religious services weekly, but who have no close friends in their congregation, report that they are extremely satisfied with their lives. For people who never attend religious services, and as such have no friends from their congregation, the same percentage said they are extremely satisfied.
On the other hand, 23% of people who attend religious services infrequently, but who have three to five close friends in their congregation, are extremely satisfied.
In a separate study, researcher Kylie Ball of Deakin University in Australia found that hanging out with healthy friends could be the best way to keep fit.
According to Prof. Ball, the findings suggest that healthy behaviour may be contagious.
The study, published in BioMed Central’s open access International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, surveyed 3,610 Australian women aged 18 to 46, and found physical activity and healthy eating were both strongly affected by social norms.
Women who moved in healthier circles were more likely to eat well and get more exercise.