Fraser Watts on why spirituality is correlated with life satisfaction…
Daniel José Camacho wrote in the Guardian recently about research from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) on people who are ‘spiritual but not religious’.
PRRI and Florida State University jointly conducted a national survey in the US, measuring spirituality by self-reported experiences of being connected to something bigger than oneself, and religion by frequency of religious attendance and the personal importance of religion.
Currently nearly one in five Americans is spiritual but not religious. And, there are significant differences between those who are spiritual and those who are not. For example, a consistently higher percentage of those who are spiritual (whether religious or non-religious) reported feeling inspired while doing activities such as listening to music or reading a book.
Spirituality and religion
Spirituality changes the way you see and treat others. According to the PRRI survey, spiritual Americans report more frequent pro-social behaviours such as helping or doing favours for others. Having a more expansive view of the world and people around them leads more satisfaction in areas such as personal health and family life. But some forms of spirituality and religion can be toxic, promoting shame and hatred.
In my recent book, Psychology, Religion and Spirituality (CUP, 2017) I suggested that ‘spirituality’ is multi-faceted. Like religion, spirituality is reflected in beliefs, values, practices and experiences. The beliefs and world view of the those who are spiritual but not religious is less clear-cut than with religious people, but usually includes a rejection of crude materialism, and a conviction that there is ‘something more’.
People who are spiritual but not religious usually also have some form of spiritual practice, such as mindfulness. In fact, they are probably more likely to have some form of regular spiritual practice than religious people (which is one of the factors that makes spiritual people distrustful of organised religion). Older research from David Hay in the UK shows that people who take the spiritual side of life seriously are also more likely to have had a powerful experience of a presence or power beyond themselves.
One of the interesting findings of the PRRI research is that spirituality is correlated with life satisfaction. It will take further research to unravel how that works, but I would not be surprised to find that openness to experience was an important link between spirituality and life satisfaction. Life satisfaction is also probably good in many religious people and, I would guess, especially in those with good openness to experience.
As Camacho says, those who are ‘spiritual but not religious’ are very diverse, including in their attitudes to religion. Some have a marked antipathy to religion. Others look at organised religion more in sorrow than anger, recognizing the rootedness of spirituality in the religions of the world, and wishing that religious people would embrace their spiritual inheritance more whole-heartedly.
There is much convergence between the more religiously sympathetic of the ‘spiritual but not religious group’ and the more spiritually rooted among religious people. I wish there was more co-operation between them.