Does having a bad day make you more prone to violence? By now many of us are familiar with the dizzying array of studies on the relationship between spirituality and well-being, with some researchers suggesting belief in God reduces stress and others pointing out a link between religion and health problems like obesity. Now a new study indicates that spirituality can improve one’s mood. It is good news for those of us who want to maximize the palliative effects of spiritual practices such as meditation in their own lives and the lives of others.
The study was conducted by psychologist Todd Kashdan of George Mason University and was published 1 August in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Most researchers who have studied the subject have looked at the link between spirituality and emotions in a broad sense, but Kashdan and his team took a different course, looking at day-to-day changes in people’s temperament. The study consisted of 87 university students of various religious backgrounds, with 34 per cent Catholic, 18 per cent Protestant, and a smattering of Eastern Orthodox, Buddhists, atheists, Muslims, and Mormons. In the first step, they had the participants complete multiple diary entries about their spiritual feelings, their self-esteem, and their emotions. In the second step, they compared patterns in the students’ spiritual feelings with day-to-day changes in their temperaments and self-esteem.
What Kashdan and his colleagues found seems to confirm what many ordained ministers already feel. According to the diary analysis, daily spiritual practice such as prayer and meditation was associated with an increase in positive mood and self-esteem. For highly spiritual people, having a bad day caused them to pray or meditate more the following day; however, a good day was followed by less spiritual behavior, suggesting that such behavior is reserved as a coping mechanism specifically to handle stressful days. According to Kashdan, people resort to prayer and meditation to cope with stress because it gives them a sense of meaning in life, a sense of transcending beyond the mundane–as many who become ordained online will attest. In turn, spiritual practice one day led to a happier day the next.
If we look hard, we might be able to see the stress-response patterns observed by Kashdan and his colleagues reflected in the rituals of the world’s many religions. Muslims, Jews, and Christians pray to God for intervention, Buddhists meditate to clear the mind, pagans cast spells and commune with nature, atheists seek materialist solutions, and ordained pastors in the ULC–well, they might be found pursuing any number of these rituals, since they come from all faith backgrounds. Each of these groups can be seen as a passive participant in Kashdan’s experiment.
It might seem as though Kashdan’s study should yield conflicting results: followers of one religion should report different emotional responses from followers of other religions, given the stark differences in religious ritual. In fact, what we find is a striking commonality in the emotional patterns of all participants, and this should resonate with ULC ministers ordained online. What it suggests is that no matter which faith tradition we belong to–if we even belong to one–the act of practicing mindfulness has a common effect on all of us. If we all really are children of the same universe, we should expect nothing else.