Both men and women who engaged in sports, religious and cultural events reported better health and satisfaction with life than those who were less engaged.
But men, especially, saw benefits. Men who attended cultural activities were 9 percent more likely to report being in good health than men who didn't attend, while women who attended cultural activities were 3 percent more likely to report good health.
Men who attended cultural activities were also 14 percent more likely to say they were satisfied with life, 13 percent less likely to have anxiety and 12 percent less likely to be depressed. Women also saw benefits, though they were less pronounced.
Those who took part in the activities either as a viewer or a participant "were ... more likely to report better and health and satisfaction with life -- and lower anxiety and depression -- than those who didn't participate," said study lead author Koenraad Cuypers, a research fellow at the Norwegian .
The study results held up even when researchers adjusted for factors that could influence the results, such as age, chronic disease, exercise, smoking alcohol use, social and economic status and body mass index.
Although the research doesn't confirm that cultural and sports activities lead to better well-being, it does establish a link between the two, the researchers noted.
Happiness may seem like a tough thing to pin down, but psychology researchers have spent years trying to define it and figure out the best ways to attain it. The new study, which appears in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, surveyed more than 50,000 Norwegians.
Some of the activities involved watching but not participating: visits to museums, art exhibits, concerts, films and plays, along with attending church and sports events. Others, like playing sports, dancing, singing, working out, and going to club meetings, involved active participation.
Researchers found that those who watched or participated in these activities reported more happiness and a higher quality of life. Of those who said they participated in five or more cultural activities over six months, 91 percent said they were somewhat to very satisfied with life, compared to only about 84 percent of those who took part in just one activity.
In women, participating in clubs or associations, music, singing, dancing, attending the theater, working out or doing sports and enjoying outdoor activities was associated with good or very good health.
In men, on the other hand, engaging in parish (religious) activities was associated with good to very good health, along with participating in associations, outdoor activities, dancing and working out or sports.