Article also published on the Collective Evolution
Let’s examine briefly the fundamental difference between religion and spirituality. Religion is defined as a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe. Most religious involvement usually involves devotional and ritual observances and often prescribes a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
“Happy are those conscious of their spiritual need.” Matthew 5:3
Spirituality refers to our ultimate reality, the human experience or understanding of the world. It is the innermost path which enables a person to discover the true essence of his or her being. Religion is based around order and usually revolves around an establishment such as the church, synagogue, or mosque, along with some external guidelines. Spirituality is based on the individual’s internal processes. It is aligned with how it affects the human spirit or soul.
Can Religion Bring People Happiness?
Studies have revealed that people who are involved in religious participation report greater levels of happiness than do those who are not religious. This pattern is typical of religious involvement and is associated with modest increases in happiness. Professor Clark, from the Paris School of Economics, and co-author Dr. Orsolya Lelkes, from the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research, used information from household surveys to analyze the attitudes of Christians – both Catholic and Protestant – not only in relation to their own happiness, but also regarding issues such as unemployment. Their findings suggested that religion could offer a “buffer” which provides a level of protection from life’s disappointments. Other studies in psychological research, including a 25 year study on 60,000 Germans, indicated long-term happiness is determined by lifestyle decisions such as choice of partner, employment, and religion. University of Melbourne Associate Professor and study leader Bruce Headey said the “study turned the long-term notion of happiness being linked to personality on its head.”
The study found people who prioritise altruistic and family goals over career and material success are more satisfied with life, while a link between religion and happiness was also evident. “Religion seems to work for people. People who regularly attended church or a mosque were a bit happier on average than people who were non-religious or non-attenders,” Professor Headey said. “So having some kind of belief system that gives you a sense of meaning or purpose is important for happiness.” Sociologists agree that the practice of a faith and a broad happiness with life do seem to be related, though nobody has much idea why. “We don’t know whether people go to church because they are happy, or whether they are happy because they go to church,” says Andrew Clark, an economist who helped conduct a survey of 30,000 Europeans in 21 countries. Another recent analysis of more than 550,000 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index interviews conducted over 2009/2010 found that in America, those who are the most religious also have the highest levels of well-being. The statistically significant relationship between religiousness and well-being holds up after factoring in numerous demographic variables.
While there are some studies that disagree with the correlation between religion and happiness, an overriding majority link some increase in happiness to religious connection. Why might this trend exist? There are many possible explanations, some of the more obvious ones being community and the social networks that many religious organizations foster. The feeling of connectedness to something bigger than oneself could also explain the greater happiness levels attained by individuals. Religion generally focuses on the greater good and positive aspects of life and living. Unconsciously this permeates into the individual and helps endorse and foster a happier and emotionally healthier individual. An individual’s relationship with God can provide a source of comfort, sense of peace, calm, and unconditional love which to the devout can be unrivalled. Religion and spirituality can give guidance and help people give or find meaning in their lives.
Happiness & Spirituality
“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” Lao Tzu
Spirituality may mean different things to different people. The main differentiator between religion and spirituality is that there is no set of rules or guidelines one must observe to be spiritual. Spirituality is entirely a personal thing, it is found deep within oneself. It can be the knowing and understanding that there is a higher reality and that the universe does not revolve around the self. It may be harmony, wisdom, compassion and a divine presence in every moment in life. Spirituality can be fostered through quiet meditation, maintaining a tranquil lifestyle, practising a life of contemplation or bringing forth a gentle awareness to one’s life. It is getting to know our true self, understanding the nature of consciousness, and transcending the physical world as we know it.
Once we have discovered inner peace and lose the need for worldly desires, it is easier to live happier and unconditionally loving lives. Dr. Mark Holder from the University of British Columbia and his colleagues, Dr. Ben Coleman and Judi Wallace, recently conducted some research into spirituality and happiness. Their research revealed that children who feel their lives have meaning and value and who develop deep, quality relationships – both measures of spirituality – are happier. It would appear, however, that their religious practices have little effect on their happiness. These findings have been published in the online edition of Springer’s Journal of Happiness Studies. Holder and colleagues wanted to understand the nature of the relationship between spirituality, religiousness, and happiness in children. Three hundred and twenty children between the ages of 8 to 12 were surveyed. The authors found that those children who said they were more spiritual were happier. In particular, the personal (i.e. meaning and value in one’s own life) and communal (i.e. quality and depth of inter-personal relationships) aspects of spirituality were strong predictors of children’s happiness.
Spirituality explained up to 27 percent of the differences in happiness levels amongst children. According to the authors, “enhancing personal meaning may be a key factor in the relation between spirituality and happiness.” They suggest some strategies aimed at increasing personal meaning in children. These include recording acts of kindness by writing them down. Other acts of altruism and volunteering – may help to make children happier. Although it is hard to find empirical data and research into the impact spirituality has upon individuals, it would seem that spirituality plays a significant part in all aspects of our lives. Spirituality exists in our literature, music, art and even to some extent science. It affects the way we think, feel, behave, and love. It is feeling good about ourselves and being at one with nature.
Was the message Christ taught, “the Kingdom of Heaven is within you,” referring to the spirituality that exists in us all, the oneness, the connection to a higher purpose? Was he referring to the ability to access our higher consciousness which is itself God? Whatever your thoughts, be it religious or spiritual, it has been written for centuries for all to see. In the Qu’ran, The Bible, Zen Buddhism, and the ancient scriptures such as the Mundaka Upanishads, they say that God is the way to happiness. God is the only way. Whether you find happiness in a religious context or a deeply personal spiritual context, it doesn’t matter. And whether you refer to this greater being as Allah, God, Buddha, the universe, or higher self also does not matter. What matters is happiness. Whatever enables you to achieve lasting happiness from within is all that matters…
excerpts from One ~ A Survival Guide for the Future…