Spirituality is such a common idea, you might think everyone knows what it means. But that’s not true, and in reality, definitions are many and often very personal, uniquely etched in self-awareness.
by David Stone
What is spirituality? A personal journey
Spirituality is difficult to define because it means different things to different people. Generally, though, spirituality refers to a sense of connection with something larger than oneself—something that might be spiritual or religious, or might not be. It’s a relationship, but the roles aren’t clear or consistent for everyone.
For some people, spirituality is all about a personal relationship with a Higher Power or God, while for others it might be more about a sense of connectedness to the natural world or other people. When a person says she is “spiritual but not religious,” this is typically what she means: she has a sense of connection to something outside herself, even if it’s hard to put into words. And it’s more personal than organized within a larger group.
Spirituality also seems to have health benefits. For example, higher spirituality predicts better health and greater life satisfaction among people with chronic illness.
Spiritual practices such as meditation or mindfulness have the potential to trigger the body’s healing ability by encouraging a state of balance, both in the body and mind.
When asked about their spirituality, most individuals respond that it makes them feel better. People who identify themselves as spiritual but do not belong to a religion say that their faith helps them cope with stress and adversity, soothes suffering during trying times, provides purpose to life, and makes them feel grateful.
What role does spirituality play in our lives?
Spirituality can play many roles in our lives. For many, it’s a sense of connection with something larger than themselves and can be a source of strength and comfort during difficult times. For others, spirituality is finding meaning and purpose in life or feeling grateful for the good things that happen.
Some people find that their spiritual beliefs motivate them to do good works or to be kind and compassionate towards others. And finally, as noted above, there’s growing evidence that spirituality carries health benefits because it helps people cope with stress and adversity better.
Take home message
Although spirituality can mean different things to different people, it almost always refers to a connection outside oneself. And this feeling has benefits for our health and well-being, especially when things are stressful or difficult.
Remember, though, that research exploring the relationship between religion or spirituality and mental and physical well-being covers areas filled with controversy and fraught with fuzzy definitions.
Different cultures have different approaches to spirituality. In addition to the connectedness covered above, some cultures emphasize doing good works or being kind and compassionate. Others focus more on internal spiritual practices like meditation or prayer.
What’s interesting is that despite these differences, there seems to be a lot of overlap in what people consider to be spiritual. Across different cultures, people generally say that spirituality brings them a sense of peace and happiness, helps them cope with stress and adversity, and provides meaning and purpose in life.
On the Spiritual Flip Side
When people lose their spiritual connection, they can experience several different things. For some, it’s emptiness or loneliness. Others feel lost or confused, lacking a sense of purpose in life. Some who found that their spiritual beliefs gave them comfort and support during difficult times may feel more stressed or anxious when they lose connection. Finally, there is some evidence that losing one’s spiritual connection has negative effects on physical health, such as increasing the risk for depression or anxiety disorders.
Spirituality is a feeling of connection to something outside of oneself—even if it’s hard to put into words. For some, spirituality means finding meaning and purpose in life; for others, it provides peace and happiness during difficult times. Many benefits come with spirituality, including improved health, especially when things get stressful or tough. But it’s clear that because spirituality is so intensely personal, no one size fits all definition will ever find a universal home. Everyone is different, and so is their spiritual presence.
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