Loving Kindness: The Best that Spirituality and Religion Has to Offer?

Loving kindness is another tool of religion and spirituality

Posted Feb 19, 2010

You would never know it by reading daily news accounts about religion but, perhaps at its very best, spirituality and religion fosters many very helpful qualities such as loving kindness as well as forgiveness, gratitude, and compassion.

The religious traditions encourage loving kindness to others along with compassionate behaviors which can not only make the world a better place but has many physical and mental health benefits as well. For example, in one of our recent studies at Santa Clara University, we found that students who participated in an alternative school break focusing on "faith that does justice" involving helping others in solidarity returned from their experience more compassionate than when they left and coped better with school and others stressors to boot.

Additionally, religious traditions, at their best, highlight the need to and benefits from forgiveness and redemption. Forgiveness is an important foil to anger and bitterness. Letting go of anger and bitterness, of real or perceived slights by others, and of transgressions of all sorts, can have many positive mental and physical effects according to a large number of recent research studies.

Gratitude highlights the ability to be thankful for what one has or what has been given as well as the ability to appreciate and savor daily events and experiences. It involves "counting your blessings" and is encouraged within all of the major religious traditions. Research has indicated that those who experience more gratitude tend to sleep better, are more optimistic, more energetic, and maintain better interpersonal relationships too.

So, doing the right thing for ourselves and others involves religious and spiritual tools such as focusing on loving kindness, forgiveness, gratitude, and compassion.

Perhaps media and others can focus more on these qualities than the terrible ones that we hear about on a regular basis. Too often we are quick to throw the baby out with the bath water when we read about some of the terrible aspects of religion. Religion can bring out the worst in people as well as the very best in people. Let's focus on the best.  

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