WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans who attend a church, synagogue, or mosque frequently report experiencing more positive emotions and fewer negative ones in general than do those who attend less often or not at all. Frequent churchgoers experience an average of 3.36 positive emotions per day compared with an average of 3.08 among those who never attend. This relationship holds true even when controlling for key demographic variables like age, education, and income.
In other words, regular churchgoers seem to do better than non-churchgoers or occasional churchgoers in terms of their daily positive wellbeing experiences. This underscores previous Gallup research that finds very religious Americans do better across numerous dimensions of wellbeing than do those who are less religious or not at all religious.
This analysis is based on more than 300,000 interviews collected as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index in 2011. Gallup and Healthways ask at least 1,000 Americans each day about the positive and negative emotions they experienced the previous day. The positive emotions include smiling and laughter, enjoyment, happiness, and learning or doing something interesting. Negative emotions include worry, sadness, stress, and anger. (See page 2 for complete question wording.)
Simple indicators of daily "emotional wellbeing" were constructed by separately counting the number of positive and negative emotions experienced in the interviewees' previous day. While unusual circumstances may influence responses from any given individual (who, for example, may have happened to have an abnormally good or bad yesterday), averaged across a large number of respondents, these measures give an accurate and detailed account of wellbeing as experienced in daily life.
Overall, more than a half of Americans (52%) report experiencing none of the four negative emotions the previous day, but about 30% of Americans report experiencing two or more of them, and nearly 5% experience all four in a day.
Similarly, more than half of all Americans (55%) report experiencing all four positive emotions at least once in any given day of the week. However, there is substantial variation -- 4% experience none of the positive emotions and about 5% experience only one of the four positive emotions the prior day.
Churchgoing Americans Experience Mood Boost on Sundays
Not only do Americans who attend a church, synagogue, or mosque frequently report having higher wellbeing in general, but they also get an extra boost to their emotional state on Sundays -- while the rest of Americans see a decline in their mood. The average number of positive emotions frequent churchgoers report experiencing rises to a high of 3.49 for the week on Sundays, whereas for those who attend church monthly or less often, the average number peaks on Saturdays and declines to a range of 3.14 to 3.29 on Sundays.
A similar pattern is evident for negative emotions. Although reports of negative emotions decline on Saturdays for all Americans in general, frequent churchgoers still report experiencing still fewer negative emotions on Sundays, while negativity increased on that day for those who attend church seldom or never.
In short, most Americans, religious and secular, feel happier on the weekend than during the week as there is greater chance for leisure and/or opportunity to spend time with one's family and friends. On Saturdays, secular and religious Americans report experiencing more positive emotions than they do on Fridays. 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. 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.
While the data clearly show that Americans who attend church frequently are experiencing more positive emotions on Sundays, it leaves unanswered the question: What makes Sunday so special for regular churchgoers? A possible answer is that across most religions, religious attendance is highest on Sunday -- the day when regular churchgoers are most likely to socialize with their fellow congregants.
As Daniel Kahneman writes in his new book Thinking, Fast and Slow, "it is only a slight exaggeration to say that happiness is the experience of spending time with people you love and who love you." In fact, additional research based on one of the most comprehensive surveys of religion in America, the Faith Matters Survey suggests that how many close friends churchgoers have in their congregations explains higher life satisfaction among regular churchgoers. Moreover, the research found that friendship in church is more strongly correlated with life satisfaction than friendships in other contexts such as the workplace or a book club. It is not only that churchgoing Americans may be more likely to socialize on Sundays, but also that they are spending time with co-religionists who can especially boost their mood.
About the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index
The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index tracks wellbeing in the U.S., U.K., and Germany and provides best-in-class solutions for a healthier world. To learn more, please visit well-beingindex.com.
Chaeyoon Lim is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin Madison. His current research focuses on civic and political outcomes of religious involvement, social consequences of economic hard times, and the relationship between social networks and subjective wellbeing.
Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey Jan. 2-Dec. 31, 2011, with a random sample of 329,152 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.
To gauge the degree of positive emotions experienced yesterday, Gallup and Healthways ask:
- Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?
- [Did you experience the following feelings during a lot of the day yesterday?] How about enjoyment?
- [Did you experience the following feelings during a lot of the day yesterday?] How about happiness?
- Did you learn or do something interesting yesterday?
To gauge the degree of negative emotions experienced yesterday, Gallup and Healthways ask:
- [Did you experience the following feelings during a lot of the day yesterday?] How about worry?
- [Did you experience the following feelings during a lot of the day yesterday?] How about sadness?
- [Did you experience the following feelings during a lot of the day yesterday?] How about stress?
- [Did you experience the following feelings during a lot of the day yesterday?] How about anger?