Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Spirituality

Why You've Got to Have Faith

Believing in something bigger than yourself can be good for your mental health.

Key points

  • Spirituality doesn’t have to mean religion—it also encompasses an array of other belief systems and practices.
  • A Gallup study found that "religious" people tended to score higher on well-being indexes.
  • Science can also lead to feelings of awe and transcendence not unlike a spiritual experience.
M.Godshepherdly/Pexels
Source: M.Godshepherdly/Pexels

​​​​​​Do you consider yourself religious or spiritual? Do you believe in a higher power, or in something "larger" than yourself? If you answered yes to either of these questions, chances are you have better mental health and well-being than people who would answer no, according to recent research.

A report from the analytics and advisory company Gallup called "Faith and Wellness: The Worldwide Connection Between Spirituality and Wellbeing" is a meta-analysis of global data that also includes in-depth interviews. It explored the links between spirituality and well-being and found that the connection between faith and wellness was a worldwide phenomenon. People with a spiritual connection had better levels of mental health and well-being.

In fact, spirituality has been linked not only to lower rates of anxiety and depression but also to a reduction in other concerns, such as addiction.

Spirituality doesn’t necessarily mean adhering to a religion (although it can); it also encompasses an array of other belief systems and practices.

Okan Caliskan / Pixabay
Okan Caliskan / Pixabay

The Gallup study found that "religious" people tended to score higher than others on well-being indexes measuring five factors: positive coping and sense of purpose in life, faith-based social connections, community and civic engagement, structural stability, and workplace support of holistic well-being.

As I am a therapist, the results of the report are not surprising to me. I’m often asked if I am spiritual or religious, and positive psychology considers spirituality to be a character strength.

"But what is that?" I hear you ask.

Character Strengths

Character strengths are a collection of 24 positive traits that we all possess to varying degrees and in different orders. They are attributes that, when played to correctly, serve to enhance our wellness. In positive psychology, the character strength of spirituality means that you do indeed possess a sound and solid belief in a higher purpose (and have found a meaning to this crazy thing we call life). These things help you to feel "good."

Around the world, despite all the strides made in addressing mental health issues, experiences of debilitating negative emotions such as anxiety, depression, and anger are at their highest levels in more than a decade. So, it’s not for nothing that people are turning toward spiritual practices as a way of coping. Global well-being pundits predict spirituality will be the next major wellness trend, so don’t be surprised if it turns up as an offering at a high-end resort and spa either near you or on your next holiday experience.

Here in the United Kingdom, Shamanism and Druidry have become two of the fastest-growing belief systems. The former is one of the oldest forms of psycho-spiritual healing known to man (and goes back hundreds of thousands of years), whilst the latter (although classed as a religion) is itself a system and practice of nature-based spirituality. (The exclusive Beaverbrook Coach House Spa in Surrey already has Druidic practices (and Druids) included in its spa treatment programme.)

Science and Nature

But fret not, ye atheists and agnostics: You can still partake in some faith-based well-being, albeit from a different source.

Researchers at Warwick University recently discovered that science can also lead to feelings of awe and transcendence not unlike those in spiritual experiences.

In the study, "Spirituality of Science: Implications for Meaning, Well-Being, and Learning," the authors found that meaning in life could be predicted in a group of atheists and agnostics via scientific sources, with the science providing similar psychological benefits as religion and spirituality.

Meanwhile, I agree with the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who said, “I do believe in god, only I spell it N-A-T-U-R-E.”

It doesn’t matter whether you believe in a single god or a pantheon of gods and goddesses, or if you have devoted yourself to nature or science, or if you simply like to meditate once or twice a day—having faith in something larger than yourself is definitely good for you.

advertisement
More from Daniel Fryer M.Sc., MBSCH
More from Psychology Today
More from Daniel Fryer M.Sc., MBSCH
More from Psychology Today