WASHINGTON — Harvard public policy professor Robert Putnam has a tongue-in-cheek suggestion for pastors: "Spend less time on the sermons, and more time arranging the church suppers."
That’s because research by Putnam and Chaeyoon Lim, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, shows that the more church friends a person has, the happier he or she is.
"Church friends are super-charged friends, but we have no idea why," Putnam told a Feb. 16 summit on religion, well-being and health at Gallup world headquarters in Washington. "We have some hypotheses, but we don't know for sure."
The researchers found that nonchurch friends do not provide the same benefit in terms of well-being and that other measures of religiosity — belief in God or frequency of prayer, for example — do not serve as a reliable predictor of a person's satisfaction with life.
"People who frequently attend religious services are more satisfied with their lives not because they have more friends overall (when compared with individuals who do not attend services) but because they have more friends in their congregations," the two researchers wrote in the American Sociological Review.
At the summit, Gallup unveiled its latest studies on how religion affects well-being, both in the United States and worldwide.
Members of the Jewish and Mormon faiths were found to have the highest well-being overall, while those with no religious identity were the lowest. Catholics scored slightly lower than Muslims on the well-being index, but higher than Protestants and other non-Catholic Christians or members of other non-Christian religions.
A report drawn from the Gallup World Poll by Angus Deaton, a professor of international affairs and economics at Princeton University, found that when a country's population is taken as a whole, a high level of religious involvement does not necessarily translate into better life satisfaction.