Over the past couple of decades, scientists have taken an interest in examining the effects of spirituality on health. And indeed, the growing evidence points to the idea that greater spirituality correlates with better mental health regardless of religion and healthy behaviors. In fact, studies show that a spiritual outlook of some kind makes humans more resilient to trauma.
But what does it really mean to be spiritual?
It is important to note that spirituality is defined as the profound belief that you are connected to a higher power operating in the vast universe, which is much greater than yourself. It's the belief in a deeper meaning and purpose in life that makes you feel connected to all beings on earth. It is not—though the two are commonly thrown together—associated solely with religion or religious practices.
What does the research say?
Science has thus taken a look at spirituality in a variety of ways, with regard to both religious practices and a person's outlook on life. A recent analysis of over 450 studies found a strong correlation between improved coping with adversity and greater spirituality in people dealing with a variety of stressful situations, including illness. The same author found evidence of a positive association between spirituality and happiness, a sense of well-being, optimism, and better social support. Countless other studies show positive trends toward healthier behaviors and better physical and mental health with greater spirituality.
So what's the take-home? There's quite a bit of research on this subject, and in short, the data point to the trend that spiritual practices improve coping skills and social support, foster feelings of optimism and hope, promote healthy behavior, reduce feelings of depression and anxiety, and encourage a sense of relaxation. There is not much out there in the scientific world to date, however, to make the claim that healthier people are more spiritual, but the science that points to the benefits of having a spiritual life and outlook is compelling.
How can you cultivate spirituality?
So why not try it out for yourself? You can cultivate a sense of spirituality in whichever way has meaning to you. This might include:
1. Taking mindful walks filled with appreciation and awe when in nature.
2. Studying a religious belief that interests you.
3. Starting a meditation practice and perhaps using prayer as the modality.
4. Volunteering with a spiritual organization that is involved in a cause you believe in.
5. Cultivating a practice of compassion.
6. Joining a spiritual or religious community.
7. Examining your own feelings around faith.
I encourage you to examine your beliefs, positive and negative attitudes, social support, community connections, and the time you spend out in nature, praying, or meditating. It's likely that you and your health will benefit greatly from adding or cultivating more spirituality in your life.