The Importance of Spirituality
There is no single, widely agreed-upon definition of spirituality. Surveys of the definition of the term, as used in scholarly research, show a broad range of meanings with limited overlap. A survey of reviews by McCarroll, each dealing with the topic of spirituality, gave twenty-seven explicit definitions, among which there was little agreement.
Many of spirituality’s core features are not unique to spirituality: for example, self-transcendence, asceticism (a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from sensual pleasures, often to pursue spiritual goals) and the recognition of one’s connection to all were regarded by the atheist Arthur Schopenhauer as key to ethical life.
According to Kees Waaijman, the traditional meaning of spirituality is a process of re-formation which “aims to recover the original shape of man, the image of God. To accomplish this, the re-formation is oriented at a mold representing the original shape: in Judaism the Torah, in Christianity there is Christ, for Buddhism, Buddha and in Islam, Mohammad.” Houtman and Aupers suggest that modern spirituality is a blend of humanistic psychology, mystical and esoteric traditions and Eastern religions.
In modern times, the emphasis is on subjective experience and the “deepest values and meanings by which people live,” incorporating personal growth, usually in a context separate from organized religious institutions.
Achieving a higher quality of life can seem like a difficult feat. Having positive relationships, high self-esteem and overall optimism are all things that can lead to a stronger sense of purpose and ultimately a better life. Here are a few reasons why spirituality is essential in one’s life.
- 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 that may provide a sense of belonging, security and community. Strong relationships have been proven to increase well-being and bolster life expectancy, which is perhaps why one study found a strong association between church attendance and improved health, mood and well-being.
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.
The spiritual practice of recognizing the interconnectedness of all life can also help buffer the pain that comes with difficult experiences. When our troubled, painful experiences are framed by the recognition that countless others have undergone similar hardships, the blow is softened.
- Spiritual People Make Healthy 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. They are also more likely to engage in preventative habits like wearing seat belts and taking vitamins.
- Spirituality May Help You Live Longer
An exhaustive review that compared spirituality and religiousness to other health interventions found that people with strong spiritual life had an 18% reduction in mortality. Giancarlo Lucchetti, the 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 agree there is a positive relationship between religious and spiritual practices and better health outcomes.
- Forgiveness Is Good Medicine
Letting go of blame and negative feelings after a hurtful incident is a practice that is reflected by several spiritual traditions, including Christianity, Islam, Buddism 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.
To sum it up, spirituality is that part of yourself that helps you find meaning, connectedness and purpose in your life. It can include the practice of a philosophy, religion or way of living that positively impacts your life.
Let us know in the comment section below how your spiritual journey has made your life better.