How Can Spirituality Boost Your Mental Health?

Human beings are turning away from organised religion, yet embracing spirituality in unique ways in the 21st century.

Data obtained from the country’s 2017 census indicates that more Australians don’t identify with a religion than those who identify with any single religion, an unexpected result for a country that has been predominantly Catholic.

As noted by CNN, “Nearly 30% reported ‘no religion’, compared to 23% Catholic and 13% Anglican.” Despite the statistics, many are practising spirituality in a deeply personal way. This phenomenon is mirrored in many countries across the globe.

Observing his own (millennial) generation, Harvard professor Casper ter Kuile states: “The overwhelming majority of us (non-religious persons) aren’t necessarily atheists. Two-thirds believe in God or a universal spirit, and one in five even pray every day. We aren’t young people who hate religion. It’s a growing group that feel like they have been left behind by religious institutions.”

Why is spirituality worth pursuing?

A plethora of studies carried out over the past decade have shown an important link between spirituality and happiness. Researchers have found that the mental health of patients recovering from cancer, stroke, spinal injury and traumatic injury is strongly linked to positive religious beliefs.

In one study carried out by researchers at the University of Missouri, researchers concluded that “Despite differences in rituals and beliefs among the world’s major religions, spirituality often enhances health regardless of a person’s faith.” The main reason why spirituality boosts mental health is that it reduces the sense of isolation, thus enabling us to weather life’s vicissitudes with greater resilience.

New definitions of spirituality

Spirituality is much more ample in its scope than religion. In Christian Spirituality: Many Styles – One Spirit, author Guinan says that all forms of spirituality have one common: “the quest of the human spirit for something that is above us, that is bigger, deeper, ‘more than’ the ordinary surface reality of life.” As noted by Brisbane Catholic Education, all spiritualities share the same pillars of being; all are “holistic, an intrinsic human capacity, transcendent, and about meaning making.” Casper ter Kuile notes that millennials in particular are seeking this sense of connection in the most unexpected places: everywhere from a yoga class to CrossFit, and even through connections made via social media.

Science shows that those who have an enriching spiritual life are happier and enjoy a greater sense of connection to others. One study actually found that taking part in religious worship is one of the few activities that promote sustained happiness. Spirituality, however, isn’t simply about sharing meaningful experiences with others, but also about facing ‘the big questions in life’, including difficult ones. Failure to do so is linked to depression, anxiety, and difficulties with emotional regulation. Accepting spiritual struggles fosters engagement with those of different beliefs and enables us to benefit in a more profound way from our search for meaning.


This article was kindly contributed by Cassie Steele.

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