Going to church regularly could boost your mood — and chase away the Sunday blues.
A new Gallup analysis finds that Americans who attend a church, mosque or synagogue regularly are generally cheerier than those who don't. The effect is particularly sharp on Sundays, when weekly churchgoers receive a mood boost, while less-frequent attendees see a decline in good feelings.
Religion is known to have a positive effect on life satisfaction and can also protect against depression and improve social support. The new analysis, based on 300,000 interviews collected as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index in 2011, found that frequent religious-service attendees report more positive emotions and fewer negative emotions on a day-to-day basis compared with people who attend less often. [8 Ways Religion Impacts Your Life]
People who go to church, synagogue or other services at least once a week report 3.36 positive emotions a day versus 3.08 among people who never attend, Gallup found. Weekly attendees report an average of only 0.85 negative emotions a day compared with 1.04 for people who never attend services.
On Sundays, weekly churchgoers' daily positive emotions rise to a high of 3.49 on average. That's notable, because people who attend religious services less often get the blues on Sunday, declining from their weekly mood high on Saturday, the results showed. People who never attend church, a mosque, a synagogue or a temple, for example, experience 3.14 positive emotions on Sundays.
"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," Gallup reported. "Perhaps some secular Americans begin to dread the return to work on Monday or curtail their social or leisure activities on Sunday to prepare for the start of the workweek."
Past studies have put forth various reasons for the link between religiosity and happiness, with one recent study suggesting this benefit may only hold in places where everyone else is religious, too; this study suggests the boost in well-being may come from the fact that religious people feel they are doing the "right" thing in cultures that place an importance on religion.
The social side of religion might also play a role. For example, a December 2010 study published in the journal American Sociological Review found that it's the social networks fostered by attending religious services that make religious people more satisfied with their lives.
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Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.