In the last blog post, I mentioned two recent studies that provide further evidence of the contribution religion makes to personal well-being. It’s clear religious affiliation is a positive force in people’s lives. Religion provides an individual with membership in a tight-knit social group, with meaning and purpose, with moral and ethical guidance and with self-reflection and accountability. Research has found reduced risk of addiction, depression and suicide among believers — even better health and greater longevity.
But what if you think of yourself as “spiritual, but not religious”? That is, are you one of the growing number of Americans who don’t belong to an organized faith, but who feel a special connection to the sacred or to a higher power? What are the benefits for you?
San Francisco State University researchers studied the individual and social benefits of spirituality. They found five positive characteristics in people who engage in some kind of spiritual practice:
- Spiritual people are gracious. They feel and express gratitude. They are optimistic and generous with their time and money.
- Spiritual people are compassionate. Empathy for others is one of the strongest markers of a spiritual life.
- Spiritual people flourish. They enjoy healthy relationships, high self-esteem and find meaning and purpose in life.
- Spiritual people self-actualize. Spiritual individuals value personal growth and work toward fulfillment as a central goal.
- Spiritual people take time to savor life experiences. They are more conscious of small, daily activities and thereby experience positive emotions in simple pleasures.
Those who engage some type of spiritual practice can look forward to steady improvements in mind and heart, such as:
- It develops mental clarity and better ability to focus on the task at hand.
- It provides steadiness and grounding in the face of life challenges.
- It helps you see the “bigger picture” of your life and the world around you.
- It helps you appreciate the simple pleasure that come with noticing the beautiful things around you.
- It keeps you in the “here and now,” not lost in thoughts about the past and future.
- It connects you to the divinity that resides inside and outside all of us.
Sounds good? But how do you develop your own spirituality? How do you find a spiritual practice that works best for you? In the next posting we’ll explore some tips to help you enhance the sacred dimension of your life.