The Women's Health Initiative research, which will be published in the Journal of Religion and Health this week, looked at data from 92,539 postmenopausal women. According to CNN, the study was funded by the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute, National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The report claims that 56 percent of those individuals who attended religious services frequently have a more optimistic outlook on life than those who did not. Additionally, 27 percent of respondents were less likely to be depressed if they attended these services on a regular basis. A majority, according to JTA, also claimed to have "strong social support."
On the social support front, individuals who attend religious services are generally part of a tight-knit community. When tragedy strikes, church members often work to help one another through difficult times. Many individuals who attend regular services, regardless of their faith allegiance, report a strong bond with fellow congregants -- hence, the "strong social support "finding.
"We looked at a number of psychological factors; optimism, depression, cynical hostility, and a number of subcategories and subscales involving social support and social strain," said Elizer Schnall a psychology professor at Yeshiva University who also led the study.
We should note that correlation is different from causality, meaning that just because two indicators are related, doesn't mean one is directly and solely causing the other.
“There is a correlation, but that does not mean there is causality,” says Schnall. “One could argue people who are more optimistic may be drawn to religious services.”
In a 2008 study, Schnall also found that regular church service has the potential to increase life expectancy. This follow-up study simply adds to the intrigue created by his former work, while falling in line with findings from past research. Among other recent findings in separate studies: Church kids are more equipped to avoid poverty, less likely to get divorced later in life and more likely to do better in college.
Also, it's important to note that this new study examines older women and does not include young people or men -- two essential groups that would certainly be needed in order to make definitive determinations.