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Survey: US churchgoers accentuate the positive

03 April 2012

by Ed Thornton

REGULAR churchgoers in the United States experience more positive and fewer negative emotions each day, a new survey suggests.

Gallup interviewed more than 300,000 Americans for its Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index in 2011. Each day last year, more than 1000 people were asked about the positive and negative emotions that they had experienced the previous day. Positive emotions included laughter, happiness, and enjoyment; negative emotions included worry, sadness, and anger.

A statement from Gallup said that “averaged across a large number of respondents, these measures give an accurate and detailed account of wellbeing as experienced in daily life.”

Researchers calculated that those who attended church at least once a week experienced an average of 3.36 positive emotions per day; those who never attended church experienced an average of 3.08. “This relationship holds true even when controlling for key demographic variables like age, education, and income,” the state­ment said.

Frequent churchgoers reported the most experiences of positive emo­tions — 3.49 — on a Sunday. The researchers found that those who did not attend church “see a decline in their mood” on Sunday. “Sunday is the only day of the week when the moods of frequent churchgoers and those who do not attend a religious service often diverge in direction significantly.”

The Gallup statement con­cludes: “It is not only that churchgoing Amer­icans may be more likely to socialise on Sundays, but also that they are spending time with co-religionists who can especially boost their mood.”

It quotes the Nobel Prize-winner Daniel Kahneman, who writes in Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011) that “it is only a slight exaggeration to say that happiness is the experience of spending time with people you love and who love you.”

Boost in giving. The fourth annual “State the Plate” survey, published last week, suggests that financial giving increased last year at 51 per cent of the churches in the United States which responded. More than 1300 Protestant congregations took part in the survey. In 2010, 43 per cent reported an increase in giving; in 2009, the figure was 36 per cent.

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