For thousands of years, religious and spiritual communities around the world have organized themselves around specific practices they find meaningful. In recent years, psychological scientists have been in conversation with such communities, trying to learn about these practices, sometimes refine them, and test the effects of related interventions on well-being. For those who consider themselves somehow spiritual – about 86% of American adults in one recent nationally representative survey – these activities may hold special significance. Although whether or not a practice really is “spiritual” depends on the person and what they hold sacred, these activities may be central parts of a lifestyle that prioritizes and integrates spirituality and well-being.
Below are five forms of spiritual practice that psychological research suggests increase well-being.
Meditation practices refer to a broad collection of activities that seek to focus the mind. Really almost anything can be a support for attention during a meditation practice. For example, we can focus on our breathing, a meaningful word of our choice, a raisin, the movement of light on the floor as it comes through a window, the sound of a bird, sensations of emotional or physical pain, a text that holds spiritual significance, the kindness of a loved one, or the presence of the divine, just to name a few.
In recent years, a variety of apps have become available to help people engage in these kinds of activities. My favorite is the free “Healthy Minds Innovations” app from the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.
Dacher Keltner defines awe as the feeling we get when we’re in the presence of a vast mystery that transcends our understanding of the world. For instance, we might feel awe in the presence of something huge, powerful, timeless, or intricate. Other people can leave us awestruck as well because of their astounding virtue, knowledge, or skill.
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Taking an intentional awe walk is one way we can seek awe. This might involve taking at least 15 minutes to stroll through a natural area, maybe one that brings us through a wooded area or field of flowers, or near a lake or river. Alternatively, we can take a walk under the night sky, at dawn or dusk, or while a thunderstorm is taking shape in the distance. As we take our walk, part of the practice entails taking our time to really try to take in what we notice as vast, for example by allowing ourselves to by swept away by a view or amazed by the detail of a flower.
Forgiveness refers to a process of letting go of negative emotions and the urges to seek revenge or avoid another because of the pain they caused us. Importantly, forgiveness need not involve telling a person we forgive them, condoning or forgetting a hurtful action, or restoring a relationship.Continue reading