We spend a lot of time working on the earthly aspects of our well-being, whether that be physical, financial, emotional, or communal. But we sometimes overlook the idea that our well-being can be also be about something much larger than ourselves, the spiritual side of things that can bring meaning and comfort to our lives.
The benefits of improved spiritual well-being are myriad and felt by people of all types and backgrounds. Data from the Gallup-Healthways Well-being Index shows that in the United States, those who identify themselves as religious actually suffer lower rates of anxiety and depression, hinting at the power of prayer and positive thinking to boost mood and overall well-being. At the same time, a separate study from Gallup shows that the trend for Americans in recent years has been away from more established religious groups to non-denominational worshipping, and from organized religion as a whole toward informal or personal religious observances. This suggests that Americans are less concerned about the particulars and more concerned with simply being a good person.
In the U.S. and across the whole world, heightened spiritual well-being has shown to be a major factor in living longer and with greater happiness. In his book Thrive, best-selling author Dan Buettner depicts how leading a tribal ceremony or showing reverence to deceased elders are age-old forms of spirituality. This sort of participation in spiritual life confers a sense of belonging and a purpose for being, not only to the practitioner, but to the entire community as well. And this idea of connecting to something larger than yourself and exploring moral beliefs is considered a key element to achieving self-actualization.
With so much emphasis placed on spiritual well-being, we wanted to know what some of the world’s spiritual leaders had to say about trying to achieve better well-being. The Dalai Lama is a faith leader who travels the world advocating for humanity and enlightenment. His new book, Beyond Religion, discusses a vision for transcending organized worship and acting in an ethical way. He advises that one of the surest ways to help yourself spiritually is by helping others. “There is a misunderstanding that showing compassion and love for others means sacrificing yourself,” the Dalai Lama said. “This is not the case. By helping others, you are helping yourself.” He notes that with some effort, it’s possible to rethink and reshape the ways we feel toward other people, on the path to achieving greater happiness.
Deepak Chopra, a trained physician and guru to millions of people worldwide, is another thought leader on the subject of spiritual well-being. Chopra explains that experiencing gratitude is one of the most effective ways to get in touch with the soul and work toward spiritual well-being: “When you’re experiencing gratitude, your ego moves out of the way. You can’t have ego and gratitude at the same time.” Chopra suggests making a list of all the things in your life—the relationships with others, the material things, even your own body—to begin to feel and experience all the things you can be grateful for. There are many ways to improve outlook to be more grateful, and there’s even research to suggest that doing so can improve mental and physical health. And both Chopra and the Dalai Lama advocate meditation as a way to experience spirituality and look for inner peace.
As the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams is the spiritual leader for the worldwide Anglican Church. In his 2011 Easter address he told followers that there is more to being happy and fulfilled that what we can often observe or recognize, such as the value of the stock market or the number of possessions we have. “The deepest happiness is something that has crept upon us when we weren’t looking,” he said. “We can’t find fulfillment in just loving ourselves … It comes from outside, from relationships, environment, the unexpected stimulus of beauty, not from any program we can identify.” So best to keep ears, eyes, and hearts open, because that path to spiritual happiness and well-being could be nearby and waiting to reveal itself.
Spiritual well-being can be very personal, yet very powerful factor in overall quality of life. Like anything worthwhile, the path to spiritual fulfillment can take effort but it can also be filled with reward.
Images via morgueFile.com.