Psychologists Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson define spirituality as “having coherent beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of the universe; knowing where one fits within the larger scheme; having beliefs about the meaning of life that shape conduct and provide comfort.”
Some key findings on the benefits of spirituality include
- Spiritual beliefs are significant predictors of happiness, while religious practices are not.
- Spirituality/religiosity has significant benefits for children and adolescents, including positive attitudes, well-being, and physical health.
- Spirituality/religiosity is also linked to reductions in mental health problems and risky behaviors.
- Youth that attended services at least once a month report higher levels of life satisfaction compared to their counterparts who never attended religious services.
- Affiliation with a religion is predictive of better overall physical health for children and adolescents and better psychological health among early adolescents compared to not having a religious affiliation or identifying as atheist or agnostic.
Transcendental relationships and experiences
- Transcendental spirituality is faith in and relationship with someone or something beyond the human level. Research in this area is limited, but suggests positive benefits for children and adolescents.
- One study found that transcendental spirituality was linked to children’s self-reported happiness.
- According to another study, depression was less frequent among adolescents and adults who had transcendent relationships or experiences.
Charity and compassion
- There has been limited research that specifically examines charity and compassion as components of spirituality, but some evidence suggests charity and compassion are associated with positive youth outcomes.
Participation in spiritual/religious activities
In general, attendance at religious services is linked by research to positive outcomes for adolescents. Significant evidence suggests that both attendance at religious services and involvement in youth religious groups are also associated with lower levels of risky behaviors.
- The positive outcomes were especially pronounced in the psychological well-being of youths who attended weekly services compared to those who never or seldom attended.
- In a large, nationally-representative sample, adolescents who attended religious services and participated in youth groups were less likely to smoke, less likely to have ever gotten drunk, less likely go to bars, and less likely to drink to get drunk.
Meaning in life
- According to one study, finding meaning and value in one’s life was significantly associated with children’s happiness.
- When all aspects of spiritual wellness are considered together, meaning in life is the only significant predictor of lower depression levels in both older adolescents and mid-life adults.
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