What Is Spirituality?
Spirituality is the broad concept of a belief in something beyond the self. It strives to answer questions about the meaning of life, how people are connected to each other, truths about the universe, and other mysteries of human existence.
Spirituality offers a worldview that suggests there is more to life than just what people experience on a sensory and physical level. Instead, it suggests that there is something greater that connects all beings to each other and to the universe itself.
It may involve religious traditions centering on the belief in a higher power. It can also involve a holistic belief in an individual connection to others and the world as a whole.
Spirituality has been a source of comfort and relief from stress for multitudes of people. While people use many different paths to find God or a higher power, research has shown that those who are more religious or spiritualand use their spirituality to cope with challenges in life experience many benefits to their health and well-being.
Signs of Spirituality
Spirituality is not a single path or belief system. There are many ways to experience spirituality and the benefits of a spiritual experience. How you define spirituality will vary. For some people, it's the belief in a higher power or a specific religious practice.
For others, it may involve experiencing a sense of connection to a higher state or a sense of inter-connectedness with the rest of humanity and nature. Some signs of spirituality can include:
- Asking deep questions about topics such as suffering or what happens after death
- Deepening connections with other people
- Experiencing compassion and empathy for others
- Experiencing feelings of interconnectedness
- Feelings of awe and wonder
- Seeking happiness beyond material possessions or other external rewards
- Seeking meaning and purpose
- Wanting to make the world a better place
Not everyone experiences or expresses spirituality in the same way. Some people may seek spiritual experiences in every aspect of their lives, while others may be more likely to have these feelings under specific conditions or in certain locations.
For example, some people may be more likely to have spiritual experiences in churches or other religious temples, while others might have these feelings when they're out enjoying nature.
Types of Spirituality
There are many different types of spirituality. Some examples of how people get in touch with their own spirituality include:
- Meditation or quiet time
- New age spirituality
- Service to their community
- Spending time in nature
- Spiritual retreats
Other people express their spirituality through religious traditions such as:
It is important to remember that there are many other spiritual traditions that exist throughout the world, including traditional African and Indigenous spiritual practices. Such spiritual practices can be particularly important to groups of people who have been subjected to the effects of colonialism.
Spirituality vs. Religion
Though there can be a lot of overlap between people who are spiritual and people who are religious, below are some key points to help differentiate spirituality vs. religion.
Can be practiced individually(Video) Stop Chasing Purpose and Focus on Wellness | Chloe Hakim-Moore | TEDxMemphis
Doesn't have to adhere to a specific set of rules
Often focuses on a personal journey of discovering what is meaningful in life
Often practiced in a community
Usually based on a specific set of rules and customs
Often focuses on the belief in deities or gods, religious texts, and tradition
Uses for Spirituality
There are a number of different reasons why people may turn to spirituality, including but not limited to:
- To find purpose and meaning: Exploring spirituality can help people find answers to philosophical questions they have such as "What is the meaning of life?" and "What purpose does my life serve?"
- To cope with feelings of stress, depression, and anxiety: Spiritual experiences can be helpful when coping with the stresses of life.
- To restore hope and optimism: Spirituality can help people develop a more hopeful outlook on life.
- To find a sense of community and support: Because spiritual traditions often involve organized religions or groups, becoming a part of such a group can serve as an important source of social support.
Tarot, Astrology, and Crystals: Why These Practices Are Helpful to Certain People
Impact of Spirituality
While specific spiritual views are a matter of faith, research has demonstrated some of the benefits of spirituality and spiritual activity. The results may surprise no one who has found comfort in their religious or spiritual views, but they are definitely noteworthy in that they demonstrate in a scientific way that these activities do have benefits for many people.
The following are a few more of the many positive findings related to spirituality and health:
- Research has shown that religion and spirituality can help people cope with the effects of everyday stress. One study found that everyday spiritual experiences helped older adults better cope with negative feelings, and enhanced positive feelings.
- Research shows that older women are more grateful to God than older men, and they receive greater stress-buffering health effects due to this gratitude.
- According to research, those with an intrinsic religious orientation, regardless of gender, exhibited less physiological reactivity toward stress than those with an extrinsic religious orientation. Those who were intrinsically oriented dedicated their lives to God or a "higher power," while the extrinsically oriented ones used religion for external ends like making friends or increasing community social standing.
This, along with other research, demonstrates that there may be tangible and lasting benefits to maintaining involvement with a spiritual community. This involvement, along with the gratitude that can accompany spirituality, can be a buffer against stress and is linked to greater levels of physical health.
Dedication to God or a higher power translated into less stress reactivity, greater feelings of well-being, and ultimately even a decreased fear of death.
People who feel comfortable and comforted using spirituality as a coping mechanism for stress can rest assured that there's even more evidence that this is a good idea for them. Prayer works for young and old alike. Prayer and spirituality have been linked to:
- Better health
- Greater psychological well-being
- Less depression
- Less hypertension
- Less stress, even during difficult times
- More positive feelings
- Superior ability to handle stress
How to Become More Mindful in Your Everyday Life
How to Practice Spirituality
Whether you are rediscovering a forgotten spiritual path, reinforcing your commitment to an already well-established one, or wanting to learn more about spirituality for beginners, there are countless ways to start exploring your spiritual side and help improve your well-being.
Spirituality is avery personal experience, and everyone’s spiritual path may be unique. Research shows, however, that some spiritual stress relief strategies have been helpful to many, regardless of faith. Some things you can do to start exploring spirituality include:
- Pay attention to how you are feeling: Part of embracing spirituality means also embracing what it means to be human, both the good and the bad.
- Focus on others: Opening your heart, feeling empathy, and helping others are important aspects of spirituality.
- Meditate: Try spending 10 to 15 minutes each morning engaged in some form of meditation.
- Practice gratitude: Start a gratitude journal and record what you are grateful for each day. This can be a great reminder of what is most important to you and what brings you the greatest happiness.
- Try mindfulness: By becoming more mindful, you can become more aware and appreciative of the present. Mindfulness encourages you to be less judgmental (both of yourself and others) and focus more on the present moment rather than dwelling on the past or future.
Press Play for Advice on Being Human
Hosted by therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares what it means to be 'wholly human,' featuring GRAMMY award-winning singer LeAnn Rimes. Click below to listen now.
One potential pitfall of spirituality is a phenomenon known as spiritual bypassing. This involves a tendency to use spirituality as a way to avoid or sidestep problems, emotions, or conflicts.
For example, rather than apologizing for some type of emotional wound you have caused someone else, you might bypass the problem by simply excusing it and saying that "everything happens for a reason" or suggesting that the other person just needs to "focus on the positive."
Spirituality can enrich your life and lead to a number of benefits, but it is important to be cautious to not let spiritual ideals lead to pitfalls such as dogmatism or a reason to ignore the needs of others.
What Is Religion?
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
Akbari M, Hossaini SM. The relationship of spiritual health with quality of life, mental health, and burnout: The mediating role of emotional regulation. Iran J Psychiatry. 2018;13(1):22-31.PMID:29892314
Whitehead BR, Bergeman CS. Coping with daily stress: Differential role of spiritual experience on daily positive and negative affect.J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2012;67(4):456-459. doi:10.1093/geronb/gbr136
Manning LK. Spirituality as a lived experience: Exploring the essence of spirituality for women in late life. Int J Aging Hum Dev. 2012;75(2):95-113. doi:10.2190/AG.75.2.a
McMahon, BT, Biggs HC. Examining spirituality and intrinsic religious orientation as a means of coping with exam anxiety. Society, Health & Vulnerability. 2012;3(1).doi:10.3402/vgi.v3i0.14918
Johnson KA. Prayer: A helpful aid in recovery from depression. J Relig Health. 2018;57(6):2290-2300. doi:10.1007/s10943-018-0564-8
Wachholtz AB, Sambamthoori U. National trends in prayer use as a coping mechanism for depression: Changes from 2002 to 2007. J Relig Health. 2013;52(4):1356-68. doi:10.1007/s10943-012-9649-y
Gonçalves JP, Lucchetti G, Menezes PR, Vallada H. Religious and spiritual interventions in mental health care: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials. Psychol Med. 2015;45(14):2937-49. doi:10.1017/S0033291715001166
Arrey AE, Bilsen J, Lacor P, Deschepper R. Spirituality/religiosity: A cultural and psychological resource among sub-Saharan African migrant women with HIV/AIDS in Belgium.PLoS One. 2016;11(7):e0159488. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0159488
Paul Victor CG, Treschuk JV. Critical literature review on the definition clarity of the concept of faith, religion, and spirituality. J Holist Nurs. 2019;38(1):107-113. doi:10.1177/0898010119895368
By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.
See Our Editorial Process
Meet Our Review Board
Was this page helpful?
Thanks for your feedback!
What is your feedback?
You may experience better confidence, self-esteem, and self-control. It can help you make sense of your experiences in life. When unwell, it can help you feel inner strength and result in faster recovery. Those in a spiritual community may have more support.What is spiritual health and wellbeing and how can this be improved? ›
There are many ways to cultivate spiritual well-being. Some people choose to participate in religious activities such as prayer or meditation. Others may find peace and solace in nature, or through service to others. Finally, it's essential to maintain an attitude of gratitude every day.What are three benefits of spiritual health? ›
According to the Center for Lifestyle Medicine and Wellness Care, the benefits of spirituality can include: Help reduce stress and depression. Reduce anxiety. Lower blood pressure (and therefore, risk of heart disease)What is spiritual well-being in health? ›
Spiritual wellbeing is often a misunderstood concept. It refers not to any particular religious or spiritual practice or ideology but to the human need for meaning, purpose and connection to something greater than ourselves.What are the benefits of spirituality? ›
- Longevity. According to a study conducted by the Mayo Clinic, people who are spiritual or religious often live longer than others. ...
- Improved Emotional State. ...
- Stronger Immune System. ...
- Reduced Risk Of Disease. ...
- Improved Self Confidence And Fitness. ...
- Strong Support System.
Meditation, awe, forgiveness, compassion, and gratitude provide practical ways to increase well-being. Spiritual practices can be conducted individually, but they may have more impact when practiced in a community.How does spiritual health affect health and wellness? ›
Some research shows a connection between your beliefs and your sense of well being. Positive beliefs, comfort, and strength gained from religion, meditation, and prayer can contribute to well being. It may even promote healing. Improving your spiritual health may not cure an illness, but it may help you feel better.What is spiritual health and how does it affect your life? ›
It reinforces inner peace and provides a sense of connection to a force greater than ourselves. Spirituality can relieve the stress of everyday life, especially when directed with intentional practice. Research shows that spirituality can benefit both the mind and the body.What are the spiritual needs for good health? ›
Spiritual care needs
the need to love and be loved. the need for meaning and purpose. the need for support and hope. the need for dignity and respect.
Praying or taking part in organized religion. Spending quiet time alone pondering the meaning of life. Building awareness through journaling. Serving your community, spending time in nature, appreciating music and the arts.
Having a relationship with yourself, your heart, and your soul (essence of your being and life purpose). Going to a worship place on a regular basis. Having a relationship with The Divine (God). Forcing a set belief system on self and expecting others to follow.How can we improve our health and wellbeing? ›
- Try to relax and reduce stress.
- Find ways to learn and be creative.
- Spend time in nature.
- Connect with others.
- Look after your physical health.
- Try to improve your sleep.
- accepting yourself for who you are;
- valuing self-exploration and improvement;
- having a generally positive outlook;
- taking care of yourself;
- being willing to ask for help; and.
- recognizing and managing stressors.
- Developing a purpose in life.
- Having the ability to spend reflective time alone.
- Taking time to reflect on the meaning of events in life.
- Having a clear sense of right and wrong, and acting accordingly.
- Having the ability to explain why you believe what you believe.
The path to spiritual wellness may involve meditation, prayer, affirmations, or specific spiritual practices that support your connection to a higher power or belief system. Yoga and meditation can also help you develop spiritual wellness.