In our fast-paced and commodified world, we are encouraged to fly at lightning speed and to relish the latest material thing or fleeting pleasure.
At the same time, the study and practice of spirituality has grown enormously in popularity and continues to receive widespread attention. Our frenzied, plugged-in lives have driven us to seek some sort of spiritual refuge or respite from the technological whirlwind. (See: the success of a meditation app like Headspace or other evidence of an increased search to slow down and unplug.)
Perhaps this heightened interest in spirituality reflects a personal thirst for meaning in our lives. Many of us are seeking not only to slow down but also to find a firm footing on a more solid—and perhaps sacred—ground.
The search for the sacred
"Spirituality can have a positive impact on our well-being by helping us focus on what we value most in life," says Ken Pargament, a world-renowned scholar of religion. The Bowling Green State University psychologist has been studying spirituality for more than 35 years and has written several books on the subject, including Spiritually Integrated Psychotherapy and The Psychology of Religion and Coping.
Defined as “the search for the sacred,” spirituality enables us to see the extraordinary in the ordinary, Ken says. "Sacred" refers to human perceptions on qualities often associated with the divine or higher powers: transcendence, ultimacy (essential and absolute truth), boundlessness, interconnectedness and spiritual emotions.
Spirituality enhances well-being
Research has shown that people who find the sacred in various spheres of life—such as relationships, work, and nature—enjoy enhanced well-being. For example, a 2010 study conducted by Ken and colleagues found that pregnant couples who viewed their marriages and pregnancies as sacred experienced increased positive emotions and were better able to overcome adversity during tough times.
Similarly, research headed by Yale professor Amy Wrzesniewski in 1997, then at the University of Michigan, found that people who see their work as sacred report higher levels of job satisfaction.
More recently, a 2014 study by Ken and colleagues showed that sacred moments were commonly reported by mental health providers and were linked with positive outcomes for the patient, the provider and the therapeutic relationship. Patients experienced healing and growth, and providers a greater sense of meaning in their work, according to Ken.
Finding the divine
If you feel you may be missing aspects of the divine and the sacred in your own life, Ken suggests asking yourself these questions to help foster a more integrated sense of spirituality:
What do you hold sacred?
Do some soul-searching to identify what matters most to you. How much time are you devoting daily to your spiritual strivings? How might you find more time everyday to search for the sacred?
Where do you find the sacred?
There are many spiritual pathways. Some of us find the sacred in relationships, some in prayer or meditation, still others through study or action. Reflect on where you experience your deepest feelings of awe, gratitude, mystery, timelessness and love. Emotions like these provide clues about where you might find the sacred and might try to spend more of your time.
How committed are you?
Practice makes perfect in the spiritual realm as in other areas of life. Spiritual growth takes commitment and hard work. Prepare yourself for a long-term process and don’t be discouraged by frustrations along the way.
Suzann Pileggi Pawelski is a freelance writer specializing in the science of happiness and its effects on relationships and health.