The word “spirituality” means different things for different people. For some, spirituality is associated with religion and is tied to concrete rites and rituals. For others, meaningful activities like swimming, making art, and walking through the woods brings on a spiritual experience. For the most part, though, the word spirituality has become as ambiguous and vague as the word “the,” and is often stigmatized by associations to “hippy-dippy” new-age philosophies, patchouli, dreadlocks, and yoga pants.
Spirituality seems to have become confused with religion, as it is common to now associate as “spiritual” or “not spiritual”. However, at its core, spirituality is a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves, and is not an ideology to believe or not believe in. Spirituality is, in fact, what gives life a sense of meaning and purpose.
Practicing spirituality has scientifically-validated benefits, making it important for each and every person, not just yogis in the Himalayas. If you find yourself skeptical about the necessity of spirituality, check out these 10 reasons why spirituality matters for the average Jo(sephine):
1. Be Present
The spiritual life is based in the present moment, as the present moment is the only real moment; the past and future are concepts in the mind. When living with our minds in the present moment, we function with greater focus, clarity, and spontaneity. We also feel greater levels of joy, as happiness is only accessible in the here and now.
2. Get Smart
Studies show that many spiritual practices, especially meditation, result in increased grey matter area in the brain. Among its many benefits, regular meditation leads to increased cognition, improved focus, attention, and ability to perform under stress, and higher levels of emotional intelligence, all of which contribute to enhanced work performance.
3. Be Healthy
Most spiritual paths and religious traditions recommend abstaining from behaviors and substances that are detrimental to health, such as drinking, smoking, using drugs, committing crimes, and harming others. Many paths, such as Ayurveda and Buddhism, even make dietary recommendations, which can lead to a lower body weight and lessened risk for chronic health problems.
4. Let Go of Grudges
A basic tenet of most spiritual paths and traditions is forgiveness. When we forgive ourselves and others, we are able to let go of blame, negative feelings, and anything else holding us back from moving forward in our lives. In fact, studies now show the positive health benefits of forgiveness, which include lowered risk of heart attack, lowered blood pressure, improved cholesterol levels, and reduced levels of pain, depression, anxiety, and stress.
5. Bounce Back Faster
Studies show that people who feel a sense of spirituality have greater resilience to hardships. Those with a spiritual outlook have an easier time moving through challenges by finding meaning in difficult situations. High resiliency is also a trait associated with the most successful people in the world.
6. Make Better Decisions
Decision-making is an area that many people struggle with. By simply identifying a set of values that we feel aligned with, we can make decisions that help us feel connected to the greater whole and with a sense of purpose. Spiritual paths also tend to support the development of faith and trust, which helps with stress-reduction in times of uncertain decision-making.
7. Enjoy Amazing Relationships
Research in social science demonstrates that humans are neuroscientifically hardwired for connection, and that connection is what brings meaning to life. Interconnectedness, which is at the core of spirituality, helps us to recognize the shared human experience and feel compassion for others. And when we feel compassion, we enjoy the company of others more and find it easier to find common ground.
8. Release Stress and Anxiety
When we feel a sense of connection to a higher power, we experience mental and emotional freedom. Personal spiritual practices, such as yoga, meditation, running, gardening, and other meaningful activities, are all correlated with lower levels of stress and tension.
9. Enhance Creativity
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “True art takes note not merely of form but also of what lies behind.” Many of the great artists in history attribute their creations to a higher power. When we are relaxed and in the present moment we can more easily experience the state of flow, which leads to more spontaneous ideas and greater levels of creativity.
10. Be Happily Alone
In our modern day culture, it is all too easy to never be alone. If you walk into any restaurant or cafe and look for the people sitting by themselves, chances are they will be absentmindedly eating their food while scrolling through Instagram and sending snapchats to people in other locations. People in this day and age find it difficult and even painful to be alone, both metaphorically and physically. However, when armed with spirituality, being alone is a gift, offering an opportunity to look inward and know oneself. Because, as almost all spiritual traditions teach, our Self is all we truly have. Spirituality teaches us how to ENJOY being alone, so that we can truly enjoy being with others.