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Even atheists benefit from religious attitudes
Highly religious people are happier than others, according to a new Pew Research survey.
However, even those who call themselves "religious unaffiliated" value religious attitudes.
The unaffiliated group listed criteria for a moral life that might sound familiar to religious folk:
* Being honest (58 percent)
* Being grateful for what they have (53 percent)
* Committing to spend time with family (47 percent)
* Forgiving those who have wronged them (39 percent)
* Working to protect the environment (35 percent)
The authors of "Religion in Everyday Life" confessed to ignorance of exactly why highly religious people were happier than others; were they happier because of their church practice, or were they involved in church because they were already happier?
The study classified "highly religious" adults as the 30 percent of U.S. adults who say they pray daily and attend church at least once a week. Ninety-five percent of them are Protestant, Catholic or other Christians, and nearly half are white evangelicals. Nearly two-thirds of them are women.
Members of that group are more engaged with family, more likely to volunteer and happier overall.
They're more likely to say they're "very satisfied with family life" and more likely to gather with extended family at least monthly.
They tend to be more independent, only 15 percent of them depending on religious leaders, while 82 percent rely on their own research for making important decisions, 45 percent on prayer and personal reflection, 43 percent on family and 25 percent on professional experts.
Highly religious people are not perfect, of course. They admit to overeating as often as anyone else, don't exercise enough, admit to telling a "white lie" in the previous week, are not likely to apply religious views to their economic choices, and only 18 percent put a priority on resting on the Sabbath.
Their top five beliefs and behaviors, in order:
* Belief in God (86 percent)
* Gratitude for what they have (71 percent)
* Forgiving those who have wronged them (69 percent)
* Honesty (67 percent)
* Praying regularly (63 percent)
Observers are often amazed at the number of different churches to be found in small towns, but church officials worry about the number of small-town residents who rarely darken the door of those places of worship.
Perhaps the happiness many small-town residents report is a result of osmosis as much as anything else.