The key to your health and happiness may lie in how spiritual you are in your daily life.
In fact, research regarding religion, spirituality, and health by Dr. Harold G. Koenig found that people who were more spiritual fared better regarding mental health over their lifetimes.
What is Spirituality?
The definition of spirituality is focusing on the human spirit or soul. Spirituality involves prioritizing people and their feelings above material or physical things. For many people, this means subscribing to a specific religion that lays out tenets of morality and selflessness.
Spirituality also connects to nature, because people with a deeper understanding of their inner selves tend to recognize the healing properties of a natural environment. People who are deeply spiritual take the time to appreciate what nature provides, without concern for what it can give them materialistically.
How Spirituality Relates to Our Health
Dr. Koenig’s review of data-based quantitative research explored positive and negative outcomes that connected with religion and spirituality. His review covered evaluating religious and spiritual beliefs against participants’ lifestyle habits and health situations.
A Historical Review of Religion and Medicine
While he notes that religion, medicine, and healthcare have always related to one another, Dr. Koenig suggests that in recent times society has separated those components. However, recognizing the effects of spirituality on our health and well-being is important for maintaining good health and recovering from illness.
Historically, many clergy members were physicians, naturally tying the two fields together. Currently, developed countries tend to maintain a separation between health and spirituality, while underdeveloped countries continue to embrace the connection.
Dr. Koenig’s Findings
First, Dr. Koenig established a definition of spirituality, which he stated is transcendent. This is the intimate connection between our inner selves and the outer world, including the supernatural, mystical, and organized religion.
Part of spirituality is the journey toward embracing the mystical elements of our beliefs, even without proof. Dr. Koenig’s review found that people who are more religious or spiritual have better mental health and adapt more quickly to health problems than those who ignore that element of their being.
Also, people with better mental health seem to have better physiological responses to treatment and dealing with diseases in general. These mental health benefits appear to transcend the physical, in much the same way that spirituality transcends material things.
How Spirituality Links Us to Nature
On its own, spirituality seems to have more to do with our mental state and acceptance of things beyond our control. However, spiritualism closely links with the natural world, although the elements of each of these views may differ.
Spiritual Naturalism: The Seen and Unseen
The Spiritual Naturalist Society maintains that spiritual naturalism is a worldview, value system, and personal life practice which encourages people to view the universe as a natural and sacred whole. This includes humans, nature, and external forces acting on our planet and our bodies.
SNS continues to elaborate on naturalism on its own, defining it as a view of the world which uses observation. This involves scientific understanding and a humble approach to learning about our environment.
Conversely, spirituality relates to the essence of life, a deeper understanding beyond what we can see with our eyes or touch with our hands. With spirituality, we develop a wider view of the world instead of focusing on the shallow and mundane events that happen on the surface.
Spirituality and Naturalism Connect
Naturalism’s key tenets are free thought and religious humanism, which merge with spirituality components regardless of specific religious affiliation. Atheism and a secular approach to humanism disregard religious affiliations completely.
While naturalism originates with the thought that there is always a concrete explanation for causes and events, spiritualism softens that approach while accepting that there are some things we simply cannot expect to fully understand about our world.
And yet, this mindset is nothing new for our modern world. Native American mythology always relates nature to spiritual occurrences, from creation stories to simple explanations for how family traditions began. This tendency to relate two seemingly discordant elements of our lives sets an example for modern culture to imitate.
Modern Life and Living in a Bubble
Today’s world involves touch screens for every purpose, connecting digitally to friends and family across the globe, and rarely if ever setting foot outside on real grass. With the fast-paced approach to life today, it’s no wonder many of us are feeling out of touch spiritually and when it comes to nature.
Modernity Builds Barriers to Nature
As Penn State’s Better Kid Care explains, children start their lives with natural curiosity and a propensity for exploring outside the four walls of their homes. Kids see the beauty in nature, but also begin to make sense of it by manipulating natural elements.
Children play in puddles, pick up rocks, and otherwise explore their natural environments. But as adults, we don’t often get down in the dirt and search for bugs or build forts out of fallen brush. We prefer the clean indoors to the chaotic outdoors, but changing that is imperative for our overall health.
Tuning in to the Natural World
E.O. Wilson coined the term biophilia after extensive research surrounding humans’ tendency to gravitate toward natural elements. As Psychology Today elaborates, Wilson’s theory suggests that we enjoy receiving flowers not only because of the thought behind them but also because they remind us of continued growth and the fruit and seeds that later emerge.
Wilson’s position that humans have a predisposition for enjoying and preserving nature goes so far as to say that those who embrace that urge from early life will experience less depression later on. He told PBSin an interview that the living environment is what sustains us, and that it serves psychological and spiritual benefits.
In children as well as adults, investigating nature inspires questions and thoughts that we never encounter while clicking around on our computers or swiping on our phones. Leveling with nature and appreciating that other creatures exist for the same reasons as we do is humbling and meaningful.
A Sense of Belonging
Personally, Wilson explains that when he travels, the moment he steps off a plane, he starts to seek out the familiar things in that environment. He will search for the ants that exist there because that is familiar to him and helps him find a sense of belonging in this new place.
While Wilson’s unique perspective may not inspire us all to start tracking ants across continents, his feelings on finding a sense of self within the bigger picture speak to our deeper spiritual needs. With that perspective, it’s easy to see how nature and spirituality merge.
Wilson also hopes that re-tuning in with nature will inspire people to try and conserve the environment, which is vital for the entire planet, not simply individuals’ spiritual health. If people love nature and all its creatures, Wilson reasons, then perhaps they’ll act to save those things.
How to Re-Awaken Spirituality
Even without considering nature as a small piece of the bigger picture that is your spirituality, there are ways to find meaning in life no matter where you live it. Whether you’re exploring your spiritual side for the first time or trying to reconnect with your past self, these steps can help you along your path.
The first step in embracing spirituality is finding yourself. Removing negative behaviors and focusing on what makes your true self means that you won’t hide behind food or alcohol addictions, drug dependency, or unhealthy physical relationships.
Learning what you like and what makes you happy goes a long way in defining that sense of self. Following the crowd and blending in doesn’t help you to stay true to yourself. Feeling comfortable in your own skin starts with recognizing what makes you unique and embracing it.
2) Take a Minimalist Approach
Paring down your physical belongings also helps you to appreciate the simple and spiritual components in life. With an abundance of things taking up space, it’s hard to simply exist and appreciate your surroundings, which is vital for developing spirituality.
Becoming Minimalist offers a guide to exploring spirituality from a minimalist perspective. After relieving yourself off excess possessions, their advice includes seven main points:
- Respect those who have passed
- Take your own journey
- Start where you are
- Ask God for help
- Practice (in any direction)
- Don’t be afraid of unanswered questions
- Be wary of thinking “everyone is right” when it comes to spiritual beliefs
If we focus too much on worldly possessions, what value are we placing on our loved ones and our moral ideals? If wanting money or objects dominates our daily lives, we’re not living very naturally or spiritually.
Without a mess of possessions to distract us from our true calling and passion in life, we’re one step closer to a divine existence. In the end, we can’t take these possessions with us, so unloading them and reorienting ourselves toward service and relationships reduces our need for acquiring more stuff.
3) Address Your Emotions
Through meditation, counseling, or simply self-reflection, acknowledging and defining your emotions helps you to open up to people and experiences. Sitting quietly and trying to understand your emotions can help you resolve problems not only in your personal life, but it can also help you feel calm and centered.
Seeking counseling for severe emotional challenges or medical help for substance issues also helps to define and manage your emotions. Often people with a weak sense of self neglect themselves because they aren’t sure how to find a better path. In that case, professionals can help.
4) Get Active
Physical activity reportedly helps every condition and ailment, from mild depression to hormonal imbalances to obesity. Physical exercise is the simplest way to boost your mood and ward off lethargy. A bonus is getting outside if you take your yoga to the garden or your run to the street instead of the treadmill.
Establishing a sense of community within your active time helps you socialize while supporting others, whether you take a class or simply invite friends to go for a walk. Even taking the stairs or parking a few spaces away from your destination helps increase endorphins and allows you to feel happier.
5) Set Reasonable Goals
Setting realistic goals and making progress moving closer to them sets you on the right track toward spiritual fulfillment. After all, if you’re not moving forward, you’re sitting stagnant in life. Regardless of what your goals are, set small ones that are attainable.
A little hard work is fine, but make sure your goals are realistic and will help you reach the next step on your path. Taking steps toward your goals in life will help you to feel energized and encourage forward movement.
How to Reconnect with the Natural World on a Spiritual Level
Now that we know people who are more spiritual tend to have better health outcomes and enjoy their lives more, how do we work toward achieving optimal spirituality in our own lives? There are simple actions we can take to move toward a deeper connection to nature and our spiritual beliefs.
Take Time to Travel
Consider E.O. Wilson’s experience traveling on a plane, then looking for the native ant species that he knew. Whether you travel across your state or halfway around the globe, experiencing new environments sparks wonder and awe, two elements of spirituality that never get old.
Enjoying a majestic view of mountains when you live on a flat plain diversifies your outlook on not just the scenery, but life in general. New appreciation for your home environment grows when you travel away, but you also create new connections when you take a chance in a new place.
Soak Up Nature
Something as small as planting an herb garden can bring you closer to nature. Not only does planting seeds fulfill our innate need to tend the earth, but it also reminds us of the wonders of the natural world that we’re only beginning to understand.
Conversely, trekking out into the wilderness tests our bodies, minds, and spirits in ways that relaxing at home in front of the TV will never achieve. But by embracing E.O. Wilson’s biophilia theory and accepting our natural need to connect to nature, we stand to grow in ways far beyond the physical.