After my sexual assault a few years ago, I found myself thinking a lot about God. In the process. I've come to realize I'm more spiritual than I am religious. What I mean by this: As far as praying to God goes, I'm more about looking inside for inner guidance -- tapping into our own abundantly powerful inner resources -- which, I suppose, is where some might say God does indeed reside.
Which reminds me of one of my favorite cartoons . . .
Two sock puppets are talking to each other. One sock puppet says to the other: "Sometimes I wonder if there is a hand."
I believe we are our own inner hand -- the godly power resides within each of us to create the lives we desire --no matter what the challenges!
That said, I also believe it doesn't matter where your "godly guidance" comes from -- deep inside you or high above. What does matter is that you take the time to seek it during times of trouble.
Indeed, studies show that people who are involved in religion report greater levels of happiness than those who are not religious.
In one study,* 101 undergraduate students between ages 18 and 49 were given surveys to complete. Those scoring high in religious beliefs -- who went to church regularly, had a strong religious faith, and prayed often -- were the ones who scored the highest in happiness.
Personally, I think there are a lot of reasons why those religious people scored higher on the happiness meter -- and not all those reasons have to do with religion per se. Religious people are simply following major core practices of happy people. For example, one benefits from the guaranteed social support that can be found in a church, synagogue, or mosque. And this community is especially helpful for those struggling through a trauma or crisis.
Plus, religion can provide a sense of meaning and purpose. According to psychiatrist Ed Diener, having a belief in something bigger than yourself -- a sense of order amid all the chaos--is a vital ingredient to happiness.
You can find this meaning in religious prayer or a spiritual belief system. Or you can simply develop a personal life philosophy that inspires you to seek lessons and growth. The important thing is to take the time to seek out this meaning and purpose during challenging times.
That said, I gotta confess: It was hard for me to consider hiring a higher power during the challenging time following my sexual assault.
I kept thinking: If there is indeed a God, then where was he/she during my time of need? After all, I am a good person. So, why did this happen to me?
I also then wondered: Is there indeed some godly force out there logging all our good actions -- and all our good thoughts -- then giving away "God Coupons" so to speak - "A Bonus Reward Point System" to frequent Do-Gooders -- and Think-Gooders -- which could then later be cashed in for exciting "Life Upgrade Prizes"? If so, did this mean if I helped a little old lady -- or chose not to say "f***" - or resisted hurting someone - then God would give me "Extra Bonus Other Good Life Stuff?" And what if I did the opposite? Behaved badly? Thought badly? Would there be a cause and affect in my life as well?
And what about all the world's infinite suffering? Was there some cause and affect methodology behind all the world's madness? Could there be any appropriate reasoning behind all this world's incredible pain, endless violence and heart-wrenching injustice?
My ruminations led me to discover the German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz - who shared many interesting perspectives about God. One of his more provocative proclamations: "God is an underachiever."
Throughout all Leibniz's writings he--like so many of us--kept questioning how a God who was supposedly good could allow so much evil and suffering in our world!
In the end, Leibniz came to God's defense, theorizing that because God was all knowing, he/she could evaluate all the possibilities of various worlds. And so perhaps God chose the world we're in -- as bad as it might seem at times --because it offered up the least possible evil.
In other words: No matter how challenging your life might feel, it could have been a whole lot worse.
Personally, I thank Leibniz for this somewhat cheery rumination - and I must say, I found myself thinking a lot about this Leibniz perspective during my personally challenging time.
Rabbi Harold Kushner's view on why bad things might happen to good people also comforted me.
Kushner's overall belief: God could have controlled everything about our lives --the good and the bad. But then we'd merely be "Stepford Humans" -- and there'd be no fun in living at all! And no growth either, for that matter! And what else are we humans here for -- but to live and learn? Hence God granted us this fabulous perk called "free will" -- which also means we have a choice in how we cope with any suffering we are dealt in the process of all our "free will" living!
In my readings-up about God, I also discovered how early diety-believers would literally rejoice during their times of suffering - because they gratefully recognized how suffering forced them to look upwards - become fully conscious - think about their lives more deeply - and thereby appreciate what they had all the more.
In other words, instead of seeking to find the meaning behind the concept of suffering, we should all try to make sure our suffering becomes meaningful. Instead of asking God to remove our problems so that our lives might be happy - we must purposefully try to learn as much as we can - and thereby become happier due to our insights and growth.
One universal good thing to come from bad things: the gift of empathy! Suffering imparts on all of us humans an informed sense of empathic understanding -- which then helps us to better connect with one another. Think about it. Without bad experiences, none of us could ever fully relate to each other. And we all so greatly desire to connect.
In the midst of bouncing back from a challenging time? Check out Karen Salmansohn"s THE BOUNCE BACK BOOK - recommended by Deepak Chopra, Anthony Robbins, and A.J. Jacobs...and then some. For more happiness tips, sign up for Karen Salmansohn's free BE HAPPY DAMMIT newsletter!
* Study researched by Stephen Joseph, PhD, University of Warwick, England - reported in Dec. 2003, journal Mental Health, Religion & Culture.