Spirituality is important enough to be constantly described as one of our defining characteristics as humans. But what is it?
Spirituality means something different to everyone. For some, it's about participating in organized religion: going to a church, synagogue, mosque, and so on. For others, it's more personal—some people get in touch with their spiritual side through private prayer, yoga, meditation, quiet reflection, or even long walks.
Research shows that even skeptics can't stifle the sense that there is something greater than the concrete world we see. As the brain processes sensory experiences, we naturally look for patterns and then seek out meaning in those patterns. And the phenomenon known as "cognitive dissonance" shows that once we believe in something, we will try to explain away anything that conflicts with it.
Humans can't help but ask big questions—the instinct seems wired in our minds.
Spirituality is a way of gaining perspective, recognizing that our role in life has a greater value than just what we do every day. I consider spirituality to be a state in which we are connected to God, Nature, each other, and the deepest part of ourselves.
In order for us to function fully, all aspects of ourselves must be balanced. Our mind, body and spirit need to be in harmony with each other.
We cannot focus on the material and neglect the spiritual. People may think that being spiritual is difficult and demanding, but that is not the case.
According to researchers, children's spirituality flows through their capacities for spontaneous joy and wonder. A sense of fascination, of mystery, awe and delight, are facets of adult spirituality too. However, by the teen years, most people have developed a powerfully 'dualistic' understanding of themselves and the world, as if standing outside it. In this 'self/non-self', 'either/or', 'right or wrong' vision of the universe, opposing features are emphasized: either young or old, for example, not both at the same time. Spirituality, on the other hand, involves a 'holistic' appreciation of a universe in which everyone and everything is connected seamlessly with everyone and everything else.
There is a growing body of evidence indicating that spiritual practices are associated with better health and wellbeing for many reasons, including:
1. It Gives Meaning to Life
Knowing the meaning of life is one of the main reasons why spirituality is important to most people. Reflecting on whom you are as a person can expand your knowledge about what human existence means in general. You may develop your own explanations to what your purpose is in life and eventually achieve self-actualization, which is a fulfillment of personal, self-needs.
2. Contemplative practice is good for you.
Contemplative practices are activities that guide you to direct your attention to a specific focus—often an inward-looking reflection or concentration on a specific sensation or concept. Many spiritual traditions have a long history of using contemplative practices to increase compassion, empathy, and attention, as well as quiet the mind.
3. A spiritual community can improve your life.
Many spiritual traditions encourage participation in a community. Spiritual fellowship, such as attending church or a meditation group, can be sources of social support which may provide a sense of belonging, security, and community. Strong relationships have been proven to increase wellbeing and bolster life expectancy, which is perhaps why one study found a strong association between church attendance and improved health, mood, and wellbeing.
4. Spiritual strength can help you overcome hardships.
Dr. Steven Southwick's book, Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life's Greatest Challenges, describes how some people overcome trauma—such as abduction, war, and imprisonment—by seeking comfort in spirituality or religion. He gives examples where spiritual people find ways to meet the challenge and continue with purposeful lives…they bounce back and carry on.
5. Spiritual people make healthier choices.
Adhering to a particular spiritual tradition may bring an indirect health benefit because many traditions have rules about treating the body with kindness and avoiding unhealthy behaviors. Research shows that perhaps because of these tenets, people who practice a religion or faith tradition are less likely to smoke or drink, commit a crime, or become involved in violent activity, and they are more likely to engage in preventative habits like wearing seatbelts and taking vitamins.
6. Spirituality may help you live longer.
An exhaustive review that compared
spirituality and religiousness to other health interventions found that people
with a strong spiritual life had an 18% reduction in mortality. Giancarlo
Lucchetti, lead author of the study, calculates that the life-lengthening
benefits of spirituality can be compared to eating a high amount of fruits and
vegetables or taking blood pressure medication. Although some researchers have
suggested that the extent of spirituality's benefit on health is exaggerated,
most researchers agree
7. It adds to happiness and contentment.
Spiritual peoples are inclined to keep and optimistic attitude and accept things for the way they are. This approach to life adds to contentment and less worry.
8. Forgiveness is good medicine.
Letting go of blame and negative feelings after a hurtful incident is a practice that is reflected by a number of spiritual traditions, including Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism. Modern science shows the health benefits of forgiveness are numerous: better immune function, longer lifespan, lowered blood pressure, improved cardiovascular health, and fewer feelings of anger or hurt.