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The Secret Ingredient to Being “Extremly Satisfied” with Life


The December issue of American Sociological Review included a study claiming to have found the “secret ingredient” in churches that leads to happier parishioners. According to the authors, “…it is the social aspects of religion rather than theology or spirituality that leads to life satisfaction.”

The study compared people who attend religious services weekly, but distinguished two groups — the first group said they had no close friends at church and the second group said they had at least three close friends at church. Only 19% of the weekly churchgoers who have no close friends at church said they are “extremely satisfied” with their lives. This number, 19%, is the same for people who do not attend church and therefore can have no close friends in a congregation.

But for the group with three or more close friends at church, 33% were “extremely satisfied” with their lives. Extremely satisfied was measured as a 10 on a 10 point scale.

The conclusion? According to one of the authors, “One of the important functions of religion is to give people a sense of belonging to a moral community based on religious faith,” he said. “This community, however, could be abstract and remote unless one has an intimate circle of friends who share a similar identity. The friends in one’s congregation thus make the religious community real and tangible, and strengthen one’s sense of belonging to the community.”

I’m not taking a position on where true satisfaction comes from in the church experience, but the findings are completely consistent with what we know about our needs for safe and secure attachments and how having them creates satisfaction. One of the categories in this blog is Attachment Theory and understanding this empirically validated, neurologically hardwired basic human need is essential to understanding what drives human behavior in the workplace.

It is interesting to compare the results of this research with Gallup’s work in the area of social connections in the workplace. Gallup Press published, Vital Friends in 2006 in here too the researchers found a correlation between the number of “vital friends” employee had at work and the level of satisfaction they felt with their life. To those familiar with Attachment Theory, neither of these findings is remarkable or unusual.  The workplace is a community, or at least it should feel like one to the people living (you might say “working”) in it.  the stronger those social connections, the stronger (more productive and satisfying) the community.

BEST PRACTICES: the same drivers of felt satisfaction with one’s life identified in the church study referred to here also applies to the workplace. Creating connections at an emotional level at work helps drive employee engagement and organizations that understand this reality, and create processes and programs (including training for managers and supervisors) to encourage will have a tremendous advantage in critical business areas including productivity, profitability, turnover, absenteeism, accident rate and more.

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2 Responses to “The Secret Ingredient to Being “Extremly Satisfied” with Life”

  1. Ed Cox Says:

    I wonder if these findings are consistent with the satisfaction levels in any strong “affinity group” such as a Rotary Club or a regular golf group or a running club. I think your comments about creating a workplace environment with the possibility of strong connections is valid. This is an important opportunity for employers to strengthen the cohesiveness, loyalty, and productivity of their teams.
    Thanks for the post.

  2. drheem Says:

    Ed, I think you are correct. One of the most powerful drivers of human behavior is the need to have safe and secure connections with others — regardless of the purpose or context of the group. It is as true in the military (soldiers working alone are typically a liability) as it is in the workplace (teams can accomplish a task more quickly than the same individuals disaggregated). In the workplace, research shows employees are up to seven times more engaged in what they do if they have just one trusted colleague. Sadly, this reality is not a part of most management tomes or current business practice.

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