Does "Flow" Open Our Minds to Believing in "Oneness"?

Losing yourself in an ego-dissolving state of flow may fortify oneness beliefs.

Posted Apr 13, 2019

People who believe more strongly in the sense of “oneness” as a guiding principle tend to experience greater life satisfaction, according to a new study. This first-of-its-kind paper by Laura Marie Edinger-Schons, “Oneness Beliefs and Their Effect on Life Satisfaction,” was published online ahead of print April 11 in the journal Psychology of Religion and Spirituality

Kanenori/Pixabay
Source: Kanenori/Pixabay

You may be asking, "What is oneness?" and "What parameters are used to ascertain life satisfaction?" Generally speaking, having a strong sense of oneness is a secular or spiritual belief that everything in the natural world and our human experiences are interdependent and connected. Higher life satisfaction (LS) scores generally reflect a robust interest in life, more happiness, less perceived social isolation or loneliness, and lower levels of daily stress or anxiety.

In a statement about the factors that sparked her recent line of research on oneness, Edinger-Schons—who is a professor in the business school at the University of Mannheim in Germany—described how her day-to-day life experiences of creating a state of flow was the genesis for this pioneering research on oneness and life satisfaction:

"I recognized that in various philosophical and religious texts, a central idea is the idea of oneness. In my free time, I enjoy surfing, Capoeira, meditation and yoga, and all of these have been said to lead to experiences that can be described as being at one with life or nature or just experiencing a state of flow through being immersed in the activity. I was wondering whether the larger belief in oneness is something that is independent of religious beliefs and how it affects satisfaction with life. The results of this study reveal a significant positive effect of oneness beliefs on life satisfaction, even controlling for religious beliefs.”

In a 2014 study (Garfield et al.) on the link between oneness beliefs and pro-environmental behavior, Andrew Garfield and colleagues differentiated between spiritual oneness and physical oneness. They defined "spiritual oneness" as “a belief in the spiritual interconnectedness and essential oneness of all phenomena, both living and non-living; and a belief that happiness depends on living in accord with this understanding.”

That said, because some of us might recognize a sense of universal connectedness but don't necessarily equate a belief in oneness as being rooted in spirituality, Garfield et al. also acknowledge a belief in "physical oneness." They defined this "oneness" school of thought as a perspective that "may include the understanding that all phenomena in the universe are composed of the same materials, and subject to the same laws of nature.”

For her recent oneness study, Edinger-Schons was able to recruit 74,966 people in Germany to fill out online questionnaires as part of a cooperation project between the University of Manheim and a private company. The primary goal of the surveys was to measure people’s degree of oneness beliefs and to rate their degree of life satisfaction.

One part of the "oneness" questionnaire had people respond to statements on a seven-point scale ranging from “I do not agree at all” to "I completely agree.” The following five items had the highest relevance for reflecting the robustness of someone’s oneness beliefs: 

  1. I believe that everything in the world is based on a common principle. 
  2. All things in the world have a common source.
  3. I believe that everything in the world is connected.
  4. I believe in a divine principle underlying all being.
  5. Everything in the world is interdependent and influenced by each other.

Respondents were also asked a series of survey questions designed to measure systems of belief that are related to oneness beliefs such as social connectedness, feeling a sense of unity or awe-inspired connection to nature, and their empathy towards others. There were also questions designed to measure degrees of life satisfaction.

After reviewing mountains of data, Edinger-Schons identified a correlation between stronger oneness beliefs and an overall affinity for experiencing various types of connectedness. As mentioned, the most significant aspect of these research findings is that higher oneness scores were correlated with higher life satisfaction. 

Edinger-Schons also wanted to investigate if people’s oneness scores would vary over time. So, she administered the same questionnaire six weeks later. "Obviously, oneness beliefs are more than a situation-specific feeling or mood, they seem to represent a general attitude toward life," she said in a statement. 

Among those who responded the second-time around, Edinger-Schons found that oneness beliefs didn’t change significantly. Although more rigorous research is needed, these initial findings suggest that having a oneness-based worldview might remain stable over time.

Higher Life Satisfaction Is Linked to Overall Well-Being and Longevity

Previous research has shown that higher life satisfaction is linked to better academic performance in school and better health as we age.

Additionally, a longitudinal study published in November 2000 on self-reported life satisfaction by researchers in Finland found that dissatisfaction with life was linked to higher mortality rates among Finnish adults. The uptick in mortality rates among those who were dissatisfied with life was mostly attributed to unhealthy lifestyle choices such as drinking too much. 

In a second survey of over 67,000 people, Edinger-Schons investigated whether higher levels of life satisfaction and oneness beliefs might operate above and beyond specific religious beliefs. Because the original research data showed a significant correlation between oneness beliefs and life satisfaction, she speculated that believing in oneness might play a role in an individual’s level of life satisfaction regardless of his or her specific religion.

It's worth noting that all of the study participants surveyed were from Germany, which Edinger-Schons acknowledges as a limitation of this study. That said, the large cohort of Germany-based respondents represented in these surveys self-identified as belonging to a spectrum of religious affiliations that included Buddhism, Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and multiple Protestant denominations. Notably, more than 25 percent of study participants self-identified as Atheist. 

Although Edinger-Schons did identify a link between the strength of oneness belief and various religious beliefs, she also found that believing in oneness was a stronger predictor of life satisfaction than specific religious beliefs. In closing, Edinger-Schons said:

“Many people today practice yoga, meditation, action sports, and other activities that aim at achieving a state of oneness or flow. Strengthening the more general belief in the oneness of everything has the potential to enhance peoples' lives and might even be more effective than traditional religious beliefs and practices at improving life satisfaction.” 

Oneness Beliefs + Flow States = Greater Life Satisfaction

Based on this new research about a possible correlation between oneness beliefs and life satisfaction, one could speculate that creating daily routines and habits that include the pursuit of flow states might be a way to increase oneness beliefs and life satisfaction in tandem. 

Also, looking at this research specifically through the lens of pursuing flow states, it seems that the daily lifestyle habits associated with seeking flow via athletics, the arts, mindfulness, meditation, etc. can fortify one's long-term belief in oneness and create an upward spiral of life satisfaction while simultaneously improving psychological and physical well-being. Conversely, not believing in "oneness" could be linked to more life dissatisfaction and less inclination to pursue states of flow, which might create a downward spiral.

In a follow-up post, I’ll filter the latest research by Laura Marie Edinger-Schons on oneness beliefs and life satisfaction through the lens of my own experiences with “oneness" as a church-going Mennonite during childhood, life-changing experiences of becoming "one" with everything around me while tripping on psilocybin during adolescence, and as a flow and superfluidity-seeking ultra-endurance athlete during adulthood. 

Updated on April 20: Here's the follow-up post, "Psilocybin, Sublime Awe, and Flow Made “Oneness” My Religion."

References

Laura Marie Edinger-Schons. "Oneness Beliefs and Their Effect on Life Satisfaction." Psychology of Religion and Spirituality (First published online: April 11, 2019) DOI: 10.1037/rel0000259

Andrew M. Garfield, Brian B. Drwecki, Colleen F. Moore, Katherine V. Kortenkamp, Matthew D. Gracz. "The Oneness Beliefs Scale: Connecting Spirituality with Pro‐Environmental Behavior." Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (First published: June 10, 2014) DOI: 10.1111/jssr.12108

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