Jamie D. Aten Ph.D.


The benefit of spirituality on our well-being, a continued interview with glen milstein on the effects of spirituality..

Posted January 26, 2021 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan

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Glen Milstein, used with permission

What outcome does our spiritual well-being have on our lives? In this interview, Glen Milstein shares how we can use spirituality and religion to benefit our lives individually and relationally.

Glen Milstein is an associate professor in Psychology at The City College of The City University of New York. He received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University with training at the Bellevue Hospital Center and an NIMH post-doctoral fellowship at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University. The foundation of Milstein's work with his colleagues is the lifespan development of beliefs: Since humans are born without a word or a prayer, Glen is interested in how the language(s) of religion(s) becomes us through our families, friends, partners, and communities.

In 2019, he guest-edited a section on Religion and Spirituality in the Context of Disaster for the journal, Psychological Trauma : Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy . In 2020, He co-edited an issue on Religion and Health for the Journal of Prevention & Intervention in the Community . He is currently part of a task force within the American Psychological Association that is collaborating on a document to provide religious and spiritual competency practice guidelines for psychologists.

This is part two of a two-part interview with Milstein; you can find Part 1 here .

Jamie Aten: How might readers apply what you found to their lives?

Glen Milstein: What we sought to clarify — which was demonstrated by our research — is that spiritual well-being is beneficial for religious persons. In our study, we found it was protective against depressive symptoms, even if one has strong social support. We learned that it is important to take notice of depressive symptoms and to intervene to reduce these symptoms, with both personal and clinical resources, in order to prevent experiencing worsened occupational distress or burnout .

If you have a spiritual wisdom tradition that has been a positive influence, we can recommend that you examine and discern how this may serve as a source of meaning, wellness, and emotional support. This — like any exercise — is worthy of time set aside consistently. For some people, this discernment may lead to strengthening current practices; for others, it may be a reclamation of a previous path, and for others, it could be a journey on a new path.

JA: How can readers use what you found to help others?

GM: Spiritual well-being is a journey, not a destination. The one constant in life is change, which paradoxically can give us more assurance as change shows both that we can work to heal what has been harmed, as well as strengthen what has been diminished.

We found evidence for this in the data from the ministers. For these clergy, 15 percent had a robust increase in their spiritual well-being (SWB) in ministry across one year and 17 percent in their personal SWB. Also, a different 16 percent had a decrease in their SWB in ministry across one year and 15 percent in their personal SWB.

That spiritual well-being varies, is an idea that might create a sense of personal stigma or disappointment in clergy and other religious persons. Therefore, clergy may benefit from recognizing the need to cultivate spiritual well-being across their lifespan. Psychologists can be among those who encourage persons to improve their spiritual well-being and then assess if this results in the positive outcomes suggested by our research.

JA: What are you currently working on that you might like to share?

GM: Our next project with the Clergy Health Initiative will be another examination of a core psychological question: How does one’s early religious upbringing influence one’s adult functioning?

We know that 90 percent of Catholic priests grew up Catholic. What percentage of Methodist ministers grew up Methodist? How does this upbringing appear to predict their occupational distress, ministry satisfaction, and spiritual well-being?

Because of the sustained work of CHI, we will be able to study 10 years of data to measure outcomes. Our initial hypothesis is that those ministers who grew up Methodist will be functioning better. An alternative hypothesis is that by choosing their spiritual path, those not raised Methodist will function better. It is — in the moment — invigorating not to know.

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I am also currently preparing for my sabbatical, which will begin in Autumn 2021. I have accepted an invitation to be a Visiting Scholar at the Faculty of Divinity of Cambridge University. While there, I will have the opportunity to dialogue with colleagues as I research and write some of the integrative work I developed over the last 30 years. The working title of this sabbatical project is, “Utility of the Ineffable: Darwin, Religion, and The General Good."

I also plan to work with the Cambridge Interfaith Programme to offer COPE dialogues for collaboration between clergy and mental health care providers. I will direct my work to learn from human religious experiences in order to find more cogent and empathic ways to engage those people with lived experiences of mental and emotional distress whose strengths are sustained or challenged by their faith(s).

Milstein, G., Hybels, C. F., & Proeschold-Bell, R. J. (2020). A prospective study of clergy spiritual well-being, depressive symptoms, and occupational distress. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 12(4), 409-416. doi:10.1037/rel0000252

Jamie D. Aten Ph.D.

Jamie Aten , Ph.D. , is the founder and executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College.

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What is Spiritual Well-being?

The word “spiritual” refers to that core dimension of you – your innermost self – that provides you with a profound sense of who you are, where you came from, where you’re going and how you might reach your goal. You may not think much about spiritual well-being and what role it plays in your life, but its significance is stronger than you may believe.   

Spiritual wellness may mean different things to different people. For some, spirituality may be synonymous with traditional religion, while for others it relates primarily to the quality of personal relationships or love for nature. A foundation for spiritual wellness may be the sense that life is meaningful, and you have found your place in it. The search for meaning and purpose in human existence leads one to strive for a state of harmony with themselves and with others while working to balance inner needs with the rest of the world.  

To discover what spirituality means for you and how it can play an important role in your life, consider the questions below. Your answers may provide clues to enhance your own spiritual wellness.   

  • What gives your life meaning and purpose?
  • What gives you hope?
  • How do you get through tough times? Where have you found comfort?
  • What are your 3 most memorable experiences?
  • If you belong to a religious community, how are you connected to this group?
  • If you have survived losses in your life, how have you done so?
  • Describe a time or instance when you felt comfortable and that all was right with the world.
  • Describe a time when your life was filled with a sense of meaning or when you experienced a sense of awe.

Looking for support in your spiritual wellness? The Student Wellness Centers, free, peer to peer Wellness Coaching service can help . You can meet with a coach to reflect on the questions above and set goals to enhance your spiritual wellness. Additionally, there are many student organizations focused on spiritual wellness. You can search and find these on the Student Activities website .   

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The Role of Spirituality in Mental Well-Being

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  • While workers and students are experiencing high levels of post-COVID anxiety, they can turn to spiritual practices to improve their mental well-being and physical health.
  • Individuals can reduce stress and experience positive benefits by following three paths: developing an inner life, embracing a calling, and creating a community.
  • In some cultures, spiritual practices can influence business strategies and lead to healthier employees and organizations.

  Today’s workers are more anxious, alone, and isolated than ever. According to the 2022 “ Work Habits Study ,” 40 percent of U.S. adult workers are experiencing more depression and anxiety, 30 percent are lonelier, and 52 percent are spending more time on their devices than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Research suggests that one way individuals might achieve a state of positive well-being is to embrace spirituality. That is, they can explore a dimension of reality that is beyond their limited experience and consider the ways in which the world works on a deeper plane of existence.

In a landmark 2020 study in Health Psychology, Polish researchers surveyed 595 college students from six different universities whose study programs either focused on the human body or the human mind and spirit. Results showed that spirituality not only improved students’ psychological well-being, but also conferred health benefits on them.

It seems that nonsecular research is catching up with what world religions and some faith-based institutions have experienced and known for a long time: Spirituality is beneficial for both individuals and society.

Spirituality in the Business School

Spirituality has long been part of the approach to instruction and campus life at Pepperdine University, a Los Angeles institution that was founded on Christian principles. At the Pepperdine Graziadio Business School, our mission calls for transformational learning, including spiritual formation. We are steeped in spiritual traditions such as Sabbath rest and fellowship gatherings.

Although based on Christianity, the university has a deep regard for other world religions in which spirituality is present and practiced. We encourage our large population of global students to explore the spiritual impulse to transcend the mind’s limited perception of self and reality by engaging in activities that have the power to incite inner transformation.

Graduate business schools should consider infusing spirituality into their programs to enhance their students’ well-being and prepare them to handle stress at work.

For instance, for Hindus , spirituality is seeking the divine through tolerance, oneness, and universal consciousness. In Islam , the three spiritual rites are purification, remembrance, and prayer. For many Native American religions , place, land, and nature are important.

We believe that other graduate business schools should consider infusing spirituality into their own programs as a way to enhance their students’ well-being. Of course, many schools already offer wellness weeks and mental health counseling aimed at addressing the “anxiety pandemic.” But we believe initiatives that develop spirituality could do even more to prepare students to handle stress as they enter the workforce.

Three Paths for Spiritual Growth

In my role as spiritual life officer at Pepperdine Graziadio, I have seen that there are universal spiritual paths all MBA students can pursue to manage anxiety and establish greater well-being. In a special issue of The Leadership Quarterly edited by Louis “Jody” Fry, three paths receive particular attention:

Inner life. According to consulting firm Creativity At Work , those who have rich inner lives are in touch with their true selves and the vast terrain of their hopes, dreams, thoughts, emotions, instincts, and intuition. MBA programs that encourage exploration of a rich inner life prepare students to be secure and achieve higher-level leadership. For example, meditation and prayer can provide students with a sense of value and connection to a higher being or larger life scheme. Spiritual practices like yoga and meditation also can help students develop their inner lives.

At Pepperdine Graziadio, students engage in online and in-person reflective meditation exercises focused on sacred Christian texts such as the Book of Psalms, creeds, and confessions. Students also are encouraged to consider narratives such as poetry and art. These traditions can encourage perspective, bring about inner peace, and reduce anxiety.

For example, the prayerful reflection of The Daily Examen , an ancient practice of the Jesuit faith, encourages participants to quiet inner talk and consider the events of the day in order to detect the presence and direction of God. Through these exercises, students experience feelings such as gratefulness and belonging that build a sturdy inner life. From there, students are better able to reframe their attitudes and make changes to positively impact their mental health.

MBA programs are optimal proving grounds where aspiring professionals can discover the gifts and strengths that will help them achieve meaning and joy.

Calling. Many religions teach that the concept of calling goes deeper than any one aspect of life. It is an urge, desire, and passion that fuels an overall sense of purpose. MBA programs are optimal proving grounds where aspiring professionals can discover the gifts and strengths that will help them achieve meaning and joy. MBA programs can push students outside their comfort zones and inspire new thinking. Together, these experiences help students set their internal compasses toward their true callings.

At Pepperdine Graziadio, I teach Strength-Based Leadership, a required but ungraded course in the Master of Leadership program. In this workshop, students complete the Clifton Strength Assessment to identify their top five strengths out of 34 possibilities. With this baseline, students can reflect on how their strengths—such as self-assurance, empathy, and focus—can direct their time, purpose, and path. Simply having a terminology to identify their strengths helps them think about how they were created and where the spirit of God might be directing them. Thus, their mindsets shift to the big-picture life plan, which quiets everyday stress.

Community. MBA programs should promote cooperation and friendship, the foundation of community. MBA programs also can encourage students to dedicate themselves to noble values such as kindness and respect that help foster a positive community. Especially in times of adversity, having a community of supportive, caring peers can help MBA students respond, adapt, and recover.

For instance, the custom of sharing a meal, breaking bread, and giving thanks naturally invites the spiritual practices of hospitality, kindness, and generosity. At Pepperdine Graziadio, we host a weekly meal for business students and law students at the home of the dean of the law school. During these meals, students hear from guest speakers and consider spiritual aspects in their daily lives and future business practices. Through this shared time, students do more than simply eat together—they also develop meaningful, comforting connections and a respect for healthy cooperation.

Spirituality and Mental Health

Well beyond the campus borders, the practice of spirituality can have broad benefits for society at large. For instance, there is some evidence that it can help address prolific mental health concerns that exist on a global level. According to a 2021 report in the medical journal The Lancet, the COVID-19 pandemic has created an environment that exacerbates many determinants of poor mental health, particularly anxiety disorders. The predominant spiritual traditions in many countries’ cultures are well-positioned to address this issue.

In Japan, for example, business culture is often influenced by religion. Core spiritual practices of Shintoism focus on respecting nature and establishing a balance where both humans and kami (spirits) coexist in their proper places. For many African cultures, the past ancestor spiritual traditions help individuals find healing and peace of mind. Traditional ceremonies of Native American religions encourage the spiritual and real world to seamlessly intersect. In such ways, spiritual cultures around the world can impact the mental health of those who practice their traditions.

There is some evidence that the practice of spirituality can help address prolific mental health concerns that exist on a global level.

The practice of mindfulness, which is growing in popularity, also has positive correlations to spirituality. According to researchers and practitioners, there are mental health benefits to focusing awareness on the current moment and eliminating concerns that come from outside the present.

At Pepperdine Graziadio, Darren Good, an associate professor of applied behavioral science, is a mindfulness scholar who teaches in the Master of Science in Organization Development (MSOD) program. He focuses on how mindfulness practices can be used in both individual and organizational contexts.

Within the MSOD, one specific program explores the spiritual dimension of leadership and organizational behavior as summarized by the acronym SPINE (Spiritual, Physical, Intellectual, iNtuitive, and Emotional). This program exposes students to higher-consciousness mindfulness practices and encourages graduates to adopt these practices as a way to influence a company’s entire culture.

Benefits for a Lifetime

Business school programs that focus on mental health are more important now than ever, because the anxiety pandemic is still having widespread effects in the workplace. According to the most recent data available , 13.2 percent of adults aged 18 and over used antidepressant medications in the past 30 days. Antidepressant use was higher for adults with at least some college education (14.3 percent) than it was for those with a high school education (11.5 percent) or less (11.4 percent). Making a finer point, these findings were based on data from 2015 through 2018— before the COVID pandemic.

Flash forward to present day, and mental health remains an issue of crisis proportions. Those suffering anxiety display behavior such as uncontrollable worry, irritability, exhaustion, sleeplessness, panic attacks, and even post-traumatic stress disorder. The net impact of anxiety is so far-reaching that, in September 2022, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommended anxiety screening in primary care even for adults without symptoms.

Spirituality is not a replacement for a comprehensive diagnosis and treatment plan for severe anxiety. However, the practices and mindsets associated with spirituality can mitigate the effects of distressed mental health. When business students learn these practices, they will experience benefits that far outlast their MBA experiences and that support them professionally and personally throughout their lifetimes.

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Why Is Spirituality Important?

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There is a growing body of evidence indicating that spiritual practices are associated with better health and wellbeing for many reasons, including:

Contemplative practice is good for you.

Contemplative practices are activities that guide you to direct your attention to a specific focus—often an inward-looking reflection or concentration on a specific sensation or concept. Many spiritual traditions have a long history of using contemplative practices to increase compassion, empathy, and attention, as well as quiet the mind.

  • Meditation can induce feelings of calm and clear-headedness as well as improve concentration and attention. Brain researcher Richard Davidson’s research shows that meditation increases the brain’s gray matter density, which can reduce sensitivity to pain, enhance your immune system, help you regulate difficult emotions , and relieve stress . Mindfulness meditation in particular has been proven helpful for people with depression and anxiety , cancer , fibromyalgia, chronic pain, rheumatoid arthritis , type 2 diabetes , chronic fatigue syndrome, and cardiovascular disease .
  • Prayer may elicit the relaxation response, along with feelings of hope, gratitude, and compassion—all of which have a positive effect on overall wellbeing. There are several types of prayer , many of which are rooted in the belief that there is a higher power that has some level of influence over your life. This belief can provide a sense of comfort and support in difficult times—a recent study found that clinically depressed adults who believed their prayers were heard by a concerned presence responded much better to treatment than those who did not believe.
  • Yoga is a centuries-old spiritual practice that aims to create a sense of union within the practitioner through physical postures, ethical behaviors, and breath expansion. The systematic practice of yoga has been found to reduce inflammation and stress, decrease depression and anxiety, lower blood pressure, and increase feelings of wellbeing.
  • Journaling is another, often overlooked, contemplative practice that can help you become more aware of your inner life and feel more connected to your experience and the world around you. Studies show that writing during difficult times may help you find meaning in life’s challenges and become more resilient in the face of obstacles.

A spiritual community can improve your life.

Many spiritual traditions encourage participation in a community. Spiritual fellowship, such as attending church or a meditation group, can be sources of social support which may provide a sense of belonging, security, and community. Strong relationships have been proven to increase wellbeing and bolster life expectancy, which is perhaps why one study found a strong association between church attendance and improved health, mood, and wellbeing.

Spiritual strength can help you overcome hardships.

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Having a strong spiritual outlook may help you find meaning in life’s difficult circumstances. Southwick describes the story of a woman who overcame the post-traumatic stress following an abduction and rape by believing that her trauma “served as a platform for her personal development, forcing her to evaluate her life and gradually change it for the better. She credits her ability to move forward with her life…to her dedication to spirituality.”

The spiritual practice of recognizing the interconnectedness of all life can also help buffer the pain that comes with difficult experiences. Researcher Kristin Neff says that “if we can compassionately remind ourselves in moments of falling down that failure is part of the shared human experience, then that moment becomes one of togetherness rather than isolation. When our troubled, painful experiences are framed by the recognition that countless others have undergone similar hardships, the blow is softened.”

Spiritual people make healthier choices.

Adhering to a particular spiritual tradition may bring an indirect health benefit because many traditions have rules about treating the body with kindness and avoiding unhealthy behaviors. Research shows that perhaps because of these tenets, people who practice a religion or faith tradition are less likely to smoke or drink, commit a crime, or become involved in violent activity, and they are more likely to engage in preventative habits like wearing seatbelts and taking vitamins.

Spirituality may help you live longer.

An exhaustive review that compared spirituality and religiousness to other health interventions found that people with a strong spiritual life had an 18% reduction in mortality. Giancarlo Lucchetti, lead author of the study, calculates that the life-lengthening benefits of spirituality can be compared to eating a high amount of fruits and vegetables or taking blood pressure medication. Although some researchers have suggested that the extent of spirituality’s benefit on health is exaggerated, most researchers agree there is a positive relationship between religious and spiritual practices and better health outcomes.

Forgiveness is good medicine.

Letting go of blame and negative feelings after a hurtful incident is a practice that is reflected by a number of spiritual traditions, including Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism. Modern science shows the health benefits of forgiveness are numerous: better immune function, longer lifespan, lowered blood pressure, improved cardiovascular health, and fewer feelings of anger or hurt.

Prayer for peace

In whatever form you use, prayer benefits health through the physiological effects of positive emotion.

Select a daily reading (for example, a psalm or an excerpt from a book of meditations. Read it slowly, connecting with the words, and reflecting on them. You may want to read the passage several times. To enter a contemplative state more quickly, it helps to do this at the same time and place each day.

Listen to, and reflect upon, the following prayer for peace.

May I be at peace May my heart remain open May I awaken to the light of my own true nature May I be healed May I be a source of healing for all beings.

Bohlmeijer, E., Prenger, R., Taal, E., Cuijpers, P. (2010). The effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy on mental health of adults with a chronic medical disease: a meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research; 68 (6):539-44.

Brassai, L., Piko, B. F., & Steger, M. F. (2011). Meaning in life: Is it a protective factor for adolescents' psychological health? International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 18 (1), 44-51.

Charles, J.P. (2010). Journaling: creating space for "I". Creative Nursing;16 (4):180-4.

Davidson, R.J., Kabat-Zinn, J., Schumacher, J., Rosenkranz, M., Muller, D., Santorelli, S.F., Urbanowski, F., Harrington, A., Bonus, K., Sheridan, J.F. (2003). Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine; 65 (4):564-70.

Grant, J.A., Courtemanche, J., Duerden, E.G., Duncan, G.H., Rainville, P. (2010). Cortical thickness and pain sensitivity in zen meditators. Emotion; 10 (1):43-53.

Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., & Layton, J. B. (2010). Social relationships and mortality risk: A meta-analytic review. PLoS Medicine, 7 (7), e1000316.

Hölzel, B.K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S.M., Gard, T., Lazar, S.W. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research;191 (1):36-43.

Katzman, M. A., Vermani, M., Gerbarg, P. L., Brown, R. P., Iorio, C., Davis, M., et al. (2012). A multicomponent yoga-based, breath intervention program as an adjunctive treatment in patients suffering from generalized anxiety disorder with or without comorbidities.  International Journal of Yoga,   5 (1), 57-65. 

Koenig, L.B., Vaillant, G.E. (2009). A prospective study of church attendance and health over the lifespan. Health Psychology;28 (1):117-24.

Lucchetti, G., Lucchetti, A.L., Koenig, H.G. (2011). Impact of spirituality/religiosity on mortality: comparison with other health interventions. Explore; 7 (4):234-8.

McCullough, M. E., Hoyt, W. T., Larson, D. B., Koenig, H. G., & Thoresen, C. (2000). Religious involvement and mortality: A meta-analytic review. Health Psychology: Official Journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association, 19 (3), 211-222.

McCullough, M.E., Willoughby, B.L. (2009). Religion, self-regulation, and self-control: Associations, explanations, and implications. Psychological Bulletin;135 (1):69-93.

Merkes, M. (2010). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for people with chronic diseases. Australian Journal of Primary Health;16 (3):200-10.

Murphy, P.E., Fitchett, G. (2009). Belief in a concerned god predicts response to treatment for adults with clinical depression. Journal of Clinical Psychology; 65 (9):1000-8.

Musial, F., Büssing, A., Heusser, P., Choi, K.E., Ostermann, T. (2011). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for integrative cancer care: a summary of evidence. Forsch Komplementmed;18 (4):192-202.

Neff, K. (2011). Self - compassion . New York: Harper Collins.

Pennebaker, J. W., Chung, C. K. (in press). Expressive writing and its links to mental and physical health. In H. S. Friedman (Ed.), Oxford handbook of health psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Sengupta, P. (2012). Health impacts of yoga and pranayama: A state-of-the-art review. International Journal of Preventative Medicine;3 (7):444-58.

Southwick, S., Charney, D. (2012). Resilience: The science of mastering life’s greatest challenges. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Yadav, R. K., Magan, D., Mehta, M., Mehta, N., & Mahapatra, S. C. (2012). A short-term, comprehensive, yoga-based lifestyle intervention is efficacious in reducing anxiety, improving subjective well-being and personality. International Journal of Yoga, 5 (2), 134-139.

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The relationship between spiritual well-being and happiness among healthcare students: Application of the spiritual health questionnaire for the Iranian population

Shahoo feizi.

a Student Research Committee, Iran University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran

Morteza Nasiri

b Student Research Committee, Shiraz University of Medical Sciences, Shiraz, Iran

c Department of Operating Room Nursing, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Shiraz University of Medical Sciences, Shiraz, Iran

Hanieh Bahadori

d Student Research Committee, Hamadan University of Medical Sciences, Hamadan, Iran

Meysam Hosseini Amiri

e Spiritual Health Research Center, Qom University of Medical Sciences, Qom, Iran

f Department of Anesthesiology, School of Paramedicine, Qom University of Medical Sciences, Qom, Iran

Hamid Mirhosseini

g Research Center of Addiction and Behavioral Sciences, Shahid Sadoughi University of Medical Sciences, Yazd, Iran

Associated Data

Data included in article.

To investigate the relationship between spiritual well-being (SWB) and happiness in a sample of Iranian healthcare students, considering a culturally-adapted and a context-based measure of SWB.

In this descriptive-correlational study, 343 Muslim students of Qom University of Medical Science are studied from October 2017 to March 2018. Data collection tools were the culturally-adapted spiritual well-being scale (SWBS), the spiritual health questionnaire for the Iranian population (SHQ), and the Persian version of Oxford happiness inventory (OHI).

Total scores of SWBS, SHQ, and OHI were in moderate (68.42 ± 12.76), high (193.74 ± 24.26), and moderate (37.95 ± 14.56) levels, respectively. Happiness had a significant positive correlation with all domains of SWBS and SHQ. Moreover, a significant proportion of happiness was determined by SWBS and SHQ. Also, some domains of SWBS and SHQ showed a significant correlation with age, gender, marital status, and academic major.

There was a significant correlation between happiness and SWB, measured by SWBS and SHQ. Hence, it seems that both SWBS and SHQ are sufficiently sensitive to assess the relationship between happiness and SWB.

Happiness; Iran; Islam; Spirituality; Students; Well-being; Behavioral medicine; Health promotion; Clinical psychology

1. Introduction

As the essence of human beings, spiritual well-being (SWB) and spirituality affect many aspects of our health, including mental health [ 1 , 2 ]. Several studies reported that SWB is associated with both positive (i.e., happiness, hope, kindness, compassion, purpose in life, optimism, self-esteem, and gratefulness) and negative (i.e., depression, suicide, anxiety, psychosis, substance abuse, cigarette smoking, extra-marital sexual behaviors, delinquency/crime, and marital instability) mental health outcomes [ 3 , 4 , 5 ]. However, some studies reported that SWB can negatively affect mental health [ 6 , 7 ].

According to the literature, SWB is a major contributor to happiness in many cultures [ 8 , 9 , 10 ]. In Iran, as the host to the largest population of Shia Muslims, there is an increasing interest to assess the relationship between SWB and happiness [ 11 , 12 , 13 ], particularly in university students [ 14 , 15 , 16 , 17 ]. However, few researchers have addressed this relationship in Iranian healthcare students. Recently, Jalilian et al. reported a significant positive correlation between SWB and happiness using the spiritual well-being scale (SWBS) and Oxford happiness inventory (OHI) in students of Kermanshah University of Medical Sciences, West of Iran [ 14 ].

The higher the number of measures in SWB, the better is the assessment of various domains [ 18 ]. In the past decade, the culturally-adapted SWBS has been considered as a common measure of SWB in Iran [ 1 , 19 , 20 ]. Although culture has a significant influence on the results obtained from SWB [ 22 ], according to the best knowledge of the authors, no study has investigated the relationship between SWB and happiness using an Iranian context-based SWB questionnaire yet. Recently several studies have used the spiritual health questionnaire (SHQ) for the Iranian population, an Islamic- and Iranian-based questionnaire for SWB assessment, especially among university students [ 21 , 22 , 23 , 24 ].

To broaden the current knowledge of SHQ and also to better understand the relationship between SWB and happiness among Iranian healthcare students, we used SHQ in addition to SWBS and OHI to describe students' SWB and happiness and to evaluate the bivariate and multivariate relationship between SWB and happiness. Moreover, the SWB is analyzed based on the students' demographic characteristics.

2.1. Participants

This descriptive-correlational study was conducted on students of the Nursing & Midwifery and Paramedical schools of the Qom University of Medical Sciences, Qom, Iran, from October 2017 to March 2018. The exclusion criteria were as follows: 1) having a non-Muslim religion (Bahá'í faith and Christianity); 2) having a history of using psychoactive drugs; 3) confirmed diagnosis of chronic disorders; 4) having a family member with disability; and 5) experiencing a mental disorder during the past six months. Partially completed questionnaires were also excluded.

Students were selected using the stratified random sampling technique. So that students with similar majors (nursing, midwifery, operating room technology, anesthesiology, laboratory sciences, and emergency medical services) were allocated to a similar group, then simple random sampling was used to select students from each group, consistent with the size of the target population. Using the Eq. (1) , the sample size was calculated as 330: α = 0.01, β = 0.1, and r = 0.210 [ 15 ].

To consider the sample attrition and to increase the validity of the results, the sample size was increased to 360. In total 343 questionnaires were eligible for statistical analyses, 27 were excluded due to incompleteness.

2.2. Ethical considerations

The study is approved by the Research Ethics Committee of the Qom University of Medical Sciences (ethic No. IR.MUQ.REC.1396.42). All procedures were performed following the ethical standards of the local Ethics Committee and Helsinki declaration. First, the objectives of the study were explained to eligible students, then, if they were agreeing, written informed consent was obtained. Also, all students were assured about the confidentiality of their information. Besides, they were free to withdraw from the study at any time. Likewise, all students were assured that their participation would not affect their academic grades and/or evaluation.

2.3. Measures

2.3.1 . demographic questionnaire.

A researcher-made questionnaire was used to collect demographic information, including age, gender, marital status, academic major, and academic degree.

2.3.2 . SWBS

The SWBS, developed by Paloutzian and Ellison (1982) at the University of Idaho, is a general index of the subjective condition of well-being and perceived spiritual quality of life and contains 20 positive and negative items [ 25 ]. Each positive item should be answered on a six-point Likert scale, ranging from “strongly disagree” (score 1) to “strongly agree” (score 6). Conversely, each negative item is reverse-scored, ranging from “strongly agree” (score 1) to “strongly disagree” (score 6). Higher scores represent greater well-being. The SWBS includes two subscales of “religious well-being (RWB)” and “existential well-being (EWB)” [ 26 , 27 ].

  • - RWB subscale: This subscale consists of 10 odd-numbered items, which measure the individual's relationship with God. It consists of both negative (i.e., item No. 1: I don't find much satisfaction in private prayer with God) and positive items (i.e., item No. 3: I believe that God loves me and cares about me). The total score of RWB ranges from 10-60 and is categorized as low (a score of 10–20, which indicates a sense of unsatisfactory individual's relationship with God), moderate (a score of 21–49 which reflects moderate and positive views of the individual's relationship with God), and high (a score of 50–60 which indicates high and positive views of the individual's relationship with God) [ 26 , 27 ].
  • - EWB subscale: This subscale consists of 10 even-numbered items, which refers to the horizontal dimension of well-being about the world about us. It includes components such as having a life purpose, having life satisfaction, being related to others, and the environment surrounding the person, with no specific religious word or concept. This subscale also has a combination of negative (i.e., item No. 2: I don't know who I am, where I came from, or where I'm going) and positive items (i.e., item No. 4: I feel that life is a positive experience). The total score of EWB ranges from 10-60 and is categorized as low (a score of 10–20, which indicates a low satisfaction with life), moderate (a score of 21–49, which indicates a relative lack of clarity about purpose in life), and high (a score of 50–60, which indicates a moderate and high level of satisfaction and purpose in life) [ 26 , 27 ].

The total SWBS score is computed by summing up RWB and EWB scores, ranging from 20-120. The total score is categorized as low (score: 20–40), moderate (score: 41–99), and high (score: 100–120) [ 26 , 27 ]. The validity and reliability of the Persian version of SWBS are previously approved [ 1 , 28 ]. Biglari Abhari et al. measured the reliability and validity of the scale in students of the Iran University of Medical Sciences and reported adequate validity and a Cronbach's alpha coefficient of 0.81, 0.84, and 0.89 for the RWB, EWB, and SWBS, respectively [ 1 ]. In the present study, the Cronbach's alpha coefficient of RWB, EWB, and SWBS was 0.76, 0.74, and 0.77, respectively.

This Islamic-based questionnaire was developed for the Iranian Muslim population by Amiri et al. (2015) at the Spiritual Health Department of the Academy of Medical Sciences of Iran [ 29 ]. It consists of 48 items on a five-point Likert scale with two subscales of “insight/tendency” (cognitive/emotional component) and “performance” (behavioral component).

  • - “Insight/tendency” subscale: It consists of 28 items, which evaluate the individual's insights/trends (attitude) over the last year about “relationship with God”, “relationship with self”, and “relationship with the surrounding” (i.e., item No. 1: The purpose of man's creation is to reach perfection). This subscale is scored using a five-point Likert scale, ranging from “strongly disagree” (score 1) to “strongly agree” (score 5). The total score of this subscale ranges from 28-140 and is categorized as low (score: 28–83) and high (score: 84–140) [ 21 ].
  • - “Performance” subscale: It consists of 20 items, which evaluate the individual's behavior over the last year about “relationship with God”, “relationship with self”, and “relationship with the surrounding” (i.e., item No. 30: For the sake of Allah, I avoid bribery, usury, gambling, and drinking alcohol). The scoring of this subscale is also based on a five-point Likert scale, ranging from “never” (score 1) to “always” (score 5). The total score ranges from 20-100 and is categorized as low (score: 20–59) and high (score: 60–100) [ 21 ].

The total score of SHQ is calculated by summing up the scores of each subscale, ranging from 48- 240. Higher scores indicate greater SWB and the categorization of scores is as follow: 48–115 as low and 116–240 as high [ 21 ]. The content validity index (CVI) and the content validity ratio (CVR) of SHQ for the urban Iranian population are estimated as 0.85 and 0.80, respectively, and the Cronbach's alpha coefficients of “insight/tendency” and “performance” subscales and SHQ were 0.95, 0.96, and 0.98, respectively [ 29 ]. In two recent investigations on Iranian healthcare students, the Cronbach's alpha coefficients of SHQ were reported as 0.83 [ 22 ] and 0.95 [ 23 ], respectively. In the present study, the Cronbach's alpha coefficients of SHQ, “insight/tendency”, and “performance” were 0.89, 0.83, and 0.84, respectively.

2.3.4 . OHI

The OHI developed by Argyle et al. (1989) to measure personal happiness with five dimensions of “satisfaction with life”, “self-esteem”, “self-efficacy”, “subjective well-being”, and “positive mood”. It includes 29 items that are answered on a four-point Likert scale ranging from “never” (score 0) to “always” (score 3) [ 30 ]. The total score ranges from 0-87, and the higher scores indicate greater happiness [ 31 ]. Based on the total score, happiness is categorized into three categories: low (score: 0–28), moderate (score: 29–57), and high (score: 58–87) [ 32 ]. In a study on undergraduate students, Alipoor and Noorbala (1999) approved the reliability and validity of the Persian version of OHI [ 33 ]. Liaghatdar et al. and Bayani reported adequate validity of the scale and a Cronbach's alpha coefficient of 0.93 and 0.92 among university students [ 34 , 35 ]. In the present study, Cronbach's alpha coefficient was 0.91.

2.4. Data collection procedure

Before filling questionnaires, first, a brief explanation was provided to participants to make sure that they understood the questions. The questionnaires were filled using the self-reported method in an appropriate time either in the classroom or at home. Those who were willing to complete the questionnaires at home were asked to return the questionnaire at least two days before the deadline.

2.5. Statistical analysis

Data were analyzed using SPSS version 22 (SPSS, IBM© Corp., Armonk, NY, USA). A p-value < 0.05 was considered statistically significant. Descriptive statistics (i.e., mean, standard deviation, numbers, and percentage) were used to report demographic characteristics, SWB, and happiness. The Pearson correlation test was used to investigate the bivariate correlation between SWB and happiness. Moreover, the multiple linear regression was applied to evaluate the predictive role of SWB toward happiness. The Spearman and Pearson tests were applied to evaluate the correlation of demographic data with SWB. Also, SWB was compared in terms of demographic variables using the one-way analysis of variance or independent t-test.

3.1. Demographic data

The mean age of the students was 23.89 ± 5.36 years and 254 (74.1%) of them were female. Most students (69.1%) were single and mostly (96.2%) were in the B.Sc. degree program. Most of them were studying operating room technology (38.8%), followed by anesthesiology (23.6%), nursing (18.4%), laboratory sciences (9.9%), and midwifery (5.5%). Also, 13 students were in the associate degree program of emergency medical services (3.2%) and the M.Sc. degree program of nursing (0.6%).

3.2. SWB and happiness status

The scores of SWBS, SHQ, and OHI are presented in Table 1 . The total score of happiness was 37.95 ± 14.56, and 213 students (62.1%) had a moderate level of happiness. The total scores of SWBS and SHQ were 68.42 ± 12.76 and 193.74 ± 24.26, and 339 students (98.8%) obtained a moderate score in SWBS, but 342 of them (99.7%) had a high score in SHQ.

Table 1

Mean and standard deviation of the students' spiritual well-being and happiness.

The higher scores indicate greater spiritual well-being or happiness.

3.3. Bivariate and multivariate relationship of SWB and happiness

Bivariate correlation of SWBS, SHQ, and OHI is shown in Table 2 . Total score of OHI was significantly correlated with the total score of SWBS (r = 0.497, p < 0.001) and also subscales of EWB (r = 0.690, p < 0.001) and RWB (r = 0.245, p < 0.001). Moreover, the total score of OHI had a significant positive correlation with the total score of SHQ (r = 0.205, p < 0.001) and subscales of “insight/tendency” (r = 0.208, p < 0.001) and “performance” (r = 0.149, p = 0.007).

Table 2

Correlation between the scores of the spiritual well-being scale, spiritual health questionnaire, and Oxford happiness inventory.

∗p < 0.001 obtained by the Pearson correlation test.

∗∗p = 0.007 obtained by the Pearson correlation test.

∗∗∗p = 0.063 obtained by the Pearson correlation test.

Based on the results of the multiple linear regression, SWBS (adjusted R 2 = 0.524, F 2, 340 = 190.07, p < 0.001) and the SHQ (R 2 = 0.044, F 2, 340 = 7.879, p < 0.001) predicted a significant proportion of happiness. As shown in Table 3 , the EWB subscale significantly and positively predicted happiness (p < 0.001), whereas this prediction was negatively significant for the RWB subscale (p < 0.001). Moreover, “insight/tendency” subscale significantly and positively predicted happiness (p = 0.005), whereas the “performance” subscale did not predict it significantly (p = 0.523).

Table 3

Estimation of the students' spiritual well-being for happiness † .

3.4. SWB and demographic variables

The bivariate correlation of SWBS and SHQ with demographic variables is shown in Table 4 . All domains of SWBS and SHQ showed a significant and positive correlation with age (p < 0.001), whereas marital status and academic degree had a significant and negative correlation with SWBS and also SHQ in all domains (p < 0.05). Moreover, a significant and negative correlation was found between academic major and all domains of SWBS (p < 0.001), but this variable was significantly positive only for the “performance” subscale of SHQ (p = 0.035). Gender was correlated significantly and positively with all domains of SHQ (p < 0.001), whereas the relationship between this variable and SWBS was negative and significant in the RWB subscale (p = 0.077).

Table 4

Correlation of the students' spiritual well-being with demographic variables.

Students' SWB scores separated by demographic variables are shown in Table 5 . Students with an associate degree, emergency medical services, and married status had significantly higher scores in all domains of SWB. The SWB was higher in male students compared to females; however, the difference was not statistically significant.

Table 5

Students' spiritual well-being separated by demographic variables.

∗∗Obtained by the one-way analysis of variance.

4. Discussion

The present study had two main objectives. Firstly, to describe the students' SWB using SWBS and SHQ and their happiness using OHI. Based on the findings, students had a moderate level of happiness. While, based on the SHQ and SWBS, SWB was high and moderate, respectively. These findings are somehow consistent with the results of previous students [ 14 , 23 , 28 ]. In line with our findings, Hezomi and Nadrian reported a moderate level of happiness and also the religious belief among a sample of Iranian female students [ 36 ].

Regarding the SWBS subscales, the RWB was higher than EWB, which is in line with the findings of previous studies on the Iranian healthcare students [ 14 , 28 ]. Contrary to our findings, a study in Brazil reported higher scores for EWB than RWB [ 37 ]. A probable assumption for this difference is that Iranians pay more attention to the relationship with God, as expected in Muslim communities, therefore religious issues and spirituality are more valued in Iran [ 38 ]. However, more comparative studies are required to shed light on this assumption. Also, a significant and positive correlation was found between the total score of SWBS with its subscales, and a significant and positive relationship between RWB and EWB subscales. In other words, it was found that higher RWB scores indicate higher scores for EWB, which is consistent with a previous study conducted in Iran [ 28 ].

Comparing the SHQ subscales revealed that the “insight/tendency” subscale was higher than the “performance” subscale. In addition, a significant and positive correlation was revealed between the total score of SHQ and its subscales, and the subscales were found to be significantly and positively correlated. In other words, higher scores in insights/trends (attitude) toward spirituality led to greater performance in this regard. Consistent with our findings, a previously conducted study in Iran reported higher scores for the “insight/tendency” subscale, compared to other subscales, and a significant and positive relationship between the two subscales of SHQ [ 23 ]. Moreover, in a study conducted on Iranian nurses, the “insight/tendency” subscale obtained higher scores, and the “performance” score was positively associated with “insight/tendency” [ 24 ]. However, in a nationwide study on Iranian Muslim patients, a negative linear correlation was observed between “insight/tendency” and “performance” subscales of SHQ [ 21 ]. The discrepancy could be attributed to the differences of participants and cultural issues.

As the second objective, the present study aimed to evaluate the correlation between SWB and happiness. A direct and significant correlation was found between happiness and SWB, measured by SWBS and SHQ. In other words, the higher the students' SWB, the greater their happiness. These findings suggest good sensitivity of the SWBS and SHQ for assessing the relationship between happiness and SWB.

To the best of our knowledge, the present study is the first to investigate the correlation between SHQ and OHI. Based on the literature, we could not find any similar study in design to compare with our results. However, the findings support previous studies on the role of SWB in the happiness of students. In a similar study, a significant and positive relationship is reported between all domains of SWBS and OHI in a sample of Iranian healthcare students [ 14 ]. In another study, a positive and significant correlation was found between the scores of spiritual intelligence (King's spiritual quotient scale) and OHI among Iranian non-healthcare students [ 16 ]. Similarly, a positive correlation was reported between happiness (satisfaction with life scale) and spirituality (daily spiritual experiences scale [DSES]) using a sample of medical students in the United States [ 39 ]. Accordingly, university authorities are recommended to inform the students about spirituality and SWB and their importance in happiness. Moreover, they should establish some strategies to promote the students' SWB to subsequently increase their happiness.

In contrast with our findings, some studies reported no relationship between SWB and happiness or reported a relationship only in some dimensions of SWB. In a study conducted on students, teachers, and administrative staff and managers of Iran University of Medical Sciences, it was indicated that the respondents who had a higher score in EWB, RWB, and SWBS reported significantly higher happiness assessed by OHI. However, OHI had no significant correlation with SWBS and its subscales [ 1 ]. This discrepancy can be attributed to the characteristics of the participants and using various definitions of SWB.

According to the results of the multiple linear regression, the EWB was most important for happiness and the RWB was negatively associated with happiness. A study conducted on German students reported that personal SWB evaluated by the German version of the spiritual well-being questionnaire could predict the levels of subsequent happiness obtained by OHI [ 40 ]. In another study on Latina/o students enrolled in the United States, it was shown that daily spiritual experiences evaluated by DSES were significant predictors of subjective happiness assessed by the subjective happiness scale [ 41 ]. Moreover, a study conducted on Iranian students reported that spiritual intelligence was a positive predictor of happiness [ 16 ]. In the current study, EWB was found to be a potential co-founder in the relationship of RWB and happiness. When we adjusted the confounding effect of EWB, the positive correlation of RWB and happiness, which was found by bivariate correlation, was reversed, so that each unit increase in the RWB was associated with a 0.585 decrease in OHI score. Moreover, the significant and negative association between happiness and RWB may be justified by the innate condition of spirituality and the origin of SWBS. It worth noting that this scale is not specifically designed for Muslims, and RWB evaluates only the individual's relationship with God with 10 items, which most items are a common fact among Iranians. To better understand the relationship of SWB and happiness, we used the SHQ, as an Islamic native questionnaire for the Iranian community, and a positive relationship was found between happiness and two subscales of “insight/tendency” and “performance” in the linear regression model and also when running bivariate correlation.

Although the exact mechanisms of the correlation between SWB and happiness are not well explained, several studies suggested that spirituality and religiosity are correlated through behavioral, psychological, physiological, and social factors. From a behavioral perspective, individuals with higher spirituality and religiosity are often committed to a healthier physical and mental lifestyle such as moderation in eating, commitment to hard work, marital fidelity, altruism, and forgiveness; all of which are directly associated with subjective happiness through controlling their minds [ 16 , 42 ]. Concerning the psychological view, individuals in religious cultural contexts remain happy and hopeful to a heavenly life with no more sufferings; because subjective spirituality and religiosity help them to give meaning to adversities and tensions that occur during lifecycle [ 16 ]. Based on a physiological perspective, participating in religious practices (i.e., prayer) is a means of relaxation, which can promote mental health outcomes such as happiness [ 21 ]. It was proposed that happier individuals may be more likely to regularly attend religious services, than those who are less happy [ 43 ]. From the social perspective, frequent attendance in religious institutions such as churches, temples, and mosques is shown to positively influence the happiness; because it can lead to more social support by increased intimacy and connection with others [ 42 , 44 ]. A moderated mediation analysis indicated that higher levels of happiness in religious individuals could be explained by social sanctions and rewards that religious and non-religious individuals receive in their societies [ 45 ]. Besides, it's proved that religious individuals enjoy the health benefits of religiosity, if they receive a social valuation from their cultural context [ 46 ]. Ultimately, further studies are needed to better understand the mechanisms and pathways of action that correlate religiosity and spirituality with happiness.

4.1. Limitations

Using an Islamic- and Iranian-based questionnaire of SWB for the first time to evaluate the relationship between SWB and happiness are the main strengths of the present study. However, we are aware that the current study may have some limitations. First, the study was conducted on healthcare students in a Muslim population, therefore the results might not be generalizable to other groups, because there are other contributing factors (i.e., cross cultural differences and social contexts) that affect this relationship [ 45 ]. Second, the study had a descriptive-correlational design; hence, no cause-effect relationship could be established between SWB and happiness. Third, the self-reporting method of data collection, with students may potentially under/over report the issues.

5. Conclusion

A significant direct correlation was found between students' happiness and SWB, obtained by SWBS and SHQ. Accordingly, it seems that spirituality-based interventions could be helpful to promote the students' happiness; thus, future interventional studies are recommended to fully understand the role of SWB in the students' happiness. Moreover, it was revealed that both SWBS and SHQ are sufficiently sensitive to assess the relationship between happiness and SWB; however, because of its context-based nature, SHQ is a more appropriate measure for Iranian populations. Likewise, it seems that behavioral, psychological, physiological, and social mechanisms have a significant influence on the relationship between spirituality and happiness. However, further studies are needed to better understand the specific mechanisms and pathways of action that mediate SWB in happiness.


Author contribution statement.

Shahoo Feizi, Hamid Mirhosseini: Analyzed and interpreted the data; Wrote the paper.

Morteza Nasiri: Conceived and designed the experiments; Analyzed and interpreted the data; Wrote the paper.

Hanieh Bahadori: Performed the experiments; Analyzed and interpreted the data; Wrote the paper.

Meysam Hosseini Amiri: Conceived and designed the experiments; Performed the experiments; Analyzed and interpreted the data; Contributed reagents, materials, analysis tools or data; Wrote the paper.

Funding statement

This work was supported by the Spiritual Health Research Center of Qom University of Medical Sciences, Qom, Iran (Grant No. 96826).

Data availability statement

Declaration of interests statement.

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Additional information

No additional information is available for this paper.


Authors appreciate the valuable assistance of all students and schools' managers. Also, the authors would like to thank Shiraz University of Medical Sciences, Shiraz, Iran and also Center for Development of Clinical Research of Nemazee Hospital and Dr. Nasrin Shokrpour for editorial assistance.

Book cover

Assessing Spirituality in a Diverse World pp 413–444 Cite as

The Spiritual Well-Being Scale (SWBS): Cross-Cultural Assessment Across 5 Continents, 10 Languages, and 300 Studies

  • Raymond F. Paloutzian 5 ,
  • Zuhâl Agilkaya-Sahin 6 ,
  • Kay C. Bruce 7 ,
  • Marianne Nilsen Kvande 8 ,
  • Klara Malinakova 9 ,
  • Luciana Fernandes Marques 10 ,
  • Ahmad S. Musa 11 ,
  • Marzieh Nojomi 12 ,
  • Eyüp Ensar Öztürk 13 ,
  • Indah Permata Putri 14 &
  • Suk-Kyung You 15  
  • First Online: 08 December 2020

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10 Citations

The Spiritual Well-Being Scale (SWBS) was created in 1982 as a subjective measure of quality of life. It has been used in approximately 300 studies, 200 theses and dissertations, and 35 professional presentations. It has contributed to research in psychology and healthcare globally, and has been translated into over 10 languages—a summary of which is presented in this chapter. Development of the SWBS was based on the observation that people make meaning out of the ambiguity of life by defining goals or values toward which to strive—whether physical, personal, secular, or religious. Because not all things for which people strive are identifiably religious, the word “spiritual” came into use to refer to strivings-in-general. “Spirituality” referred to the achievement of a state of being, or the motivation to be, “spiritual.” SWB is related to, but does not equal, spiritual or spirituality. Because SWB is typically described in two ways, the SWBS has two subscales that yield outcome measures of perceived well-being in two senses: (1) The religious well-being (RWB) subscale reflects SWB in traditionally religious language, because many people explain what SWB means to them in such terms; (2) The existential well-being (EWB) subscale reflects SWB in a-religious, existential language because many people describe their SWB in such terms. RWB and EWB subscale scores can be combined into total SWB, if a combined score is meaningful for the population studied. The present chapter summarizes SWBS research and translations, critiques the SWBS and some of its uses, and suggests future uses and improvements.

  • Existential well-being
  • Mental health
  • Religious well-being
  • Spiritual well-being
  • Spiritual Well-Being Scale
  • Spirituality

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Spiritual Well-Being Scale (SWBS) ©1982 Craig W. Ellison & Raymond F. Paloutzian, © 2011 Raymond F. Paloutzian. All rights reserved to the English SWBS and its translations. Do not duplicate without permission of copyright holder or www.lifeadvance.com .

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Raymond F. Paloutzian

Istanbul Medeniyet University, Istanbul, Turkey

Zuhâl Agilkaya-Sahin

Western Seminary, Portland, OR, USA

Kay C. Bruce

Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway

Marianne Nilsen Kvande

Palacky University Olomouc, Olomouc, Czechia

Klara Malinakova

Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, Brazil

Luciana Fernandes Marques

Al al-Bayt University, Mafraq, Jordan

Ahmad S. Musa

Iran University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran

Marzieh Nojomi

Istanbul University, Istanbul, Turkey

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Universitas Indonesia, Depok, Indonesia

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Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Seoul, South Korea

Suk-Kyung You

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Kevin A. Harris

Adapted from Paloutzian ( 2016 ).

Appendix A: Spiritual Well-Being Scale

For each of the following statements circle the choice that best indicates the extent of your agreement or disagreement as it describes your personal experience:

  • SWB Scale (SWBS) © 1982 by Craig W. Ellison and Raymond F. Paloutzian; 2011 R. F. Paloutzian. All rights reserved to the English SWBS and its translations. Not to be duplicated unless expressed written permission is granted by the copyright holder or www.lifeadvance.com

Appendix B: Methods of Translation

Essential in making a good translation of a psychological scale is to follow certain well-established procedures. Three procedures have been especially successful in producing a translated scale useful for research purposes. After the initial translation is made, it is subject to standard statistical procedures in order to assess reliability, validity, and factor structure.

1.1 Back-Translation

The first method makes use of a back-translation. The researcher begins by having a qualified individual who is competent in both languages translate the original into the second language. Then a second qualified person, equally competent in both languages, begins with the translated version and translates it back into the original language. Then the original and the back-translated version are compared. If they are equivalent, then the translated version is considered satisfactory; if not, then the procedure is repeated until satisfactory results are obtained.

1.2 Translation by Committee

A second method is to have the translation made by a small committee of qualified people, all of whom are competent in both languages. There are two variations of this procedure. In the first procedure, each individual makes a translated version of the scale independently. The committee then meets and all versions are examined and compared by all on the committee, and discrepancies among the translations are discussed and weighed until consensus is reached on a final version. In the second procedure, the committee meets as a whole and its members collaborate via discussion as the make one translation of the scale; differences in opinion about the wording of specific items are worked out in the discussion until consensus is reached.

1.3 Committee Plus Back-Translation

A third method is an extension of the translation-by-committee method noted above. This third method has the same two variations in procedure as noted above. But in both cases, the final agreed-upon version of the translated scale is given to another person, not part of the translating team, who makes a back-translation of it into the original language. Then the original and the back-translated version are compared. If they are equivalent, then the translated version is considered satisfactory; if not, then the procedure is repeated until satisfactory results are obtained.

1.4 Translate Meanings, Not Words

The most important thing in translating a scale is not that the exact words be translated literally, but that the meaning of each item be translated so that what a subject understands it to be asking is the psychological equivalent in the new language to what it is in the original language. This means that sometimes a literal exact translation may not work, but a translation with modifications of words or phrases may work well. These things are found out by testing the translated instrument, beginning with its individual items (Wolf, Ihm, Maul, & Taves, 2021 ; Taves, 2020 ), in its cross-cultural context. In the hypothetical “perfect” translation, a score on the translated scale and the equivalent score on the original scale would represent the exact same meaning in the minds of the subjects. Such an outcome is an ideal scenario; well-done translations approximate it as much as possible.

Appendix C: Additional Resources on SWBS Translations

Chaves, E. D. C. L. (2008). Revisão do diagnóstico de enfermagem angústia spiritual. Doctoral dissertation, Universidade de São Paulo.

Chequini, M. C. M. (2009). Resiliência e espiritualidade em pacientes oncológicos: uma abordagem junguiana . Doctoral dissertation, Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo.

Esperandio, M. R. G., & Marques, L. (2015). The psychology of religion in Brazil. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 25(4 ), 255-257.

Kemenkes, R. I. (2014). Profil kesehatan Indonesia Tahun 2014. Diambil kembali dari: http://www.depkes.go.id/resources/download/pusdatin/profil-kesehatan-indonesia/profil-kesehatan-indonesia-2014.pdf . (Ministry of Health of the Republic of Indonesia. [2014]. Health Profile Indonesia year 2014 .)

Kvande, M. N., Klöckner, C. A., & Nielsen, M. E. (2015). Church Attendance and Religious Experience:Differential Associations to Well-Being for Norwegian Women and Men? SAGE Open, 5 (4), 2158244015612876. doi:10.1177/2158244015612876

Liu, Y.-H. (2010). Spiritual well-being and acculturative stress among older Chinese immigrants in the United States . Gerontology Program, California State University, Long Beach, California, USA.

Malinakova, K., Kopcakova, K., Madarasova Geckova, A., van Dijk, J. P., Furstova, J., Kalman, M., Tavel, P., & Reijneveld, S. A. (2018). “I am spiritual, but not religious”: Does one without the other protect against adolescent health-risk behaviour? International Journal of Public Health : https://doi.org/10.1007/s00038-018-1116-4

Malinakova, K., Madarasova Geckova, A., van Dijk, J. P., Kalman, M., Tavel, P., & Reijneveld, S. A. (2018). Adolescent religious attendance and spirituality: Are they associated with leisure-time choices? PLoS ONE 13(6), 1-14: e0198314. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0198314

Marques, L. F. (2000). A saúde e o bem-estar espiritual em adultos porto-alegrenses . Doctoral dissertation, Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul.

Martinez, E. Z., Almeida, R. G. D. S., Garcia, F. R., & Carvalho, A. C. D. D. (2013). Notes on the Portuguese-language version of the Spiritual Well-Being Scale. Jornal Brasileiro de Psiquiatria , 62(1), 76-80.

Paloutzian, R. F. (2016). The Spiritual Well-Being Scale: Portuguese translation and SWBS use. Horizonte – Revisita de Estudos de Teologia e Ciencias da Religiao (Horizonte -- Journal of Theology and Religious Studies), 14 (41) , 76-86.

Promkaewngam, S., Pothi ban, L., Srisuphan, W., & Khanokporn, S. (2014). Development of the Spiritual Well-being Scale for Thai Buddhist Adults with Chronic Illness. Pacific Rim International Journal of Nursing Research, 18(4), 320-332.

Silva, L. A. C. D. (2016). Espiritualidades e bem-estar espiritual no processo formativo de estudante de psicologia do Recife–PE à luz da abordagem integral/transpessoal. Master Dissertation, Universidade Federal de Pernambuco.

Silva, L. H. P., Penha, R. M., & Silva, M. J. P. (2012). Relação entre crenças espirituais/religiosas e bem-estar espiritual da equipe de enfermagem. Northeast Network Nursing Journal , 13(3).

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Paloutzian, R.F. et al. (2021). The Spiritual Well-Being Scale (SWBS): Cross-Cultural Assessment Across 5 Continents, 10 Languages, and 300 Studies. In: Ai, A.L., Wink, P., Paloutzian, R.F., Harris, K.A. (eds) Assessing Spirituality in a Diverse World. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-52140-0_17

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Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: A Guide to Nurturing Your Inner Self

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  • Jun 28, 2023

spiritual well being essay

Are you looking for a way to deepen your spiritual practice while also prioritizing your emotional well-being? If so, you may be interested in exploring the concept of emotionally healthy spirituality.

This approach to spirituality emphasizes the importance of integrating emotional health and spiritual growth, recognizing that the two are interconnected.

Emotionally healthy spirituality involves being honest with yourself and others about your emotions, rather than suppressing or ignoring them.

It also involves developing healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with difficult emotions, such as stress, anxiety, and grief.

By prioritizing emotional health, you can create a strong foundation for your spiritual practice and deepen your connection to the divine.

Understanding Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

Emotionally healthy spirituality is about having a healthy relationship with God, yourself, and others.

It is about being authentic, vulnerable, and honest with yourself and others.

It is about being able to express your emotions in a healthy way and not suppressing them.

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The Power of the Past

Your past experiences shape who you are today.

Your past can have a powerful impact on your emotional health and spirituality.

It is important to acknowledge and process your past experiences in order to move forward and grow emotionally and spiritually.

If you have experienced trauma or difficult experiences in your past, it is important to seek professional help to process those experiences.

It is also important to surround yourself with supportive people who can help you heal and grow.

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Authentic Self

Being authentic means being true to yourself and your values.

It means being honest with yourself and others about your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.

Authenticity is an important aspect of emotionally healthy spirituality.

When you are authentic, you are able to connect with others on a deeper level.

You are also able to connect with God in a more meaningful way.

Being authentic requires vulnerability and courage, but it is worth it.

In order to be authentic, it is important to know yourself.

Take time to reflect on your values, beliefs, and experiences.

Spend time in prayer and meditation to connect with God and yourself.

Surround yourself with people who support and encourage you to be authentic.

Overall, emotionally healthy spirituality is about being true to yourself and your values.

It is about acknowledging and processing your past experiences in order to grow emotionally and spiritually.

It is about being vulnerable and authentic with yourself and others.

The Journey Towards Emotional Health

Emotional health is an essential aspect of your overall well-being.

It is the ability to manage your emotions in a healthy way, which includes recognizing, expressing, and regulating them appropriately.

Emotionally healthy spirituality involves integrating emotional health into your spiritual journey.

This section will explore the journey towards emotional health, including recognizing emotionally unhealthy spirituality and embracing emotional health.

Recognizing Emotionally Unhealthy Spirituality

Emotionally unhealthy spirituality is characterized by emotional immaturity and an inability to manage emotions effectively.

It can manifest in various ways, such as denying or suppressing emotions, using spirituality to avoid dealing with emotional issues, or using spirituality to control or manipulate others.

Some signs of emotionally unhealthy spirituality include:

  • Using spirituality to avoid dealing with emotional issues
  • Denying or suppressing emotions
  • Using spirituality to control or manipulate others
  • Feeling guilty or ashamed of your emotions
  • Believing that negative emotions are sinful or wrong

Recognizing emotionally unhealthy spirituality is the first step towards emotional health.

It requires honesty and self-reflection to identify areas where you may be struggling with emotional immaturity.

Embracing Emotional Health

Embracing emotional health involves developing emotional maturity and learning to manage your emotions effectively.

It requires a willingness to be vulnerable, to express your emotions honestly, and to seek support when needed.

Some ways to embrace emotional health include:

  • Practicing self-awareness and mindfulness
  • Learning to express your emotions in healthy ways
  • Developing healthy coping mechanisms for managing stress and difficult emotions
  • Seeking support from others, such as a therapist or support group
  • Cultivating healthy relationships that support emotional health

Embracing emotional health is an ongoing journey that requires commitment and effort.

It involves learning to recognize and manage your emotions effectively, as well as integrating emotional health into your spiritual journey.

In conclusion, the journey towards emotional health is an essential aspect of your overall well-being.

Recognizing emotionally unhealthy spirituality and embracing emotional health are crucial steps towards achieving emotional maturity and managing your emotions effectively.

By integrating emotional health into your spiritual journey, you can cultivate a deeper sense of well-being and connection with yourself, others, and the divine.

The Role of Faith in Emotional Health

spiritual well being essay

Faith plays a significant role in emotional health.

It provides a sense of purpose and meaning, and it can help you navigate life’s challenges.

Here are two sub-sections that explore the role of faith in emotional health:

Christ and Emotional Health

As a Christian, your faith in Christ can bring emotional healing and wholeness.

Jesus understands the pain and struggles of life, and He offers comfort and hope.

When you trust in Him, you can experience peace and joy that transcends circumstances.

Biblical Integration of Emotional Health

The Bible offers practical wisdom and guidance for emotional health.

It teaches us to love ourselves and others, to forgive, to manage our thoughts and emotions, and to seek help when needed.

By integrating biblical principles into our lives, we can cultivate emotional resilience and maturity.

In summary, faith and spirituality can be powerful resources for emotional health.

By turning to Christ and applying biblical principles, you can find healing, hope, and strength to face life’s challenges.

Emotionally Healthy Discipleship

As a disciple, it’s important to not only grow spiritually but also emotionally.

Emotionally healthy discipleship is crucial to living a fulfilled life as a Christian.

Here are two ways you can cultivate emotionally healthy discipleship:

Discipleship Course

Taking a discipleship course can be a great way to grow both spiritually and emotionally.

A good discipleship course will not only teach you about the Bible and theology but also provide you with practical tools to help you deal with your emotions in a healthy way.

Look for a course that covers topics such as emotional intelligence, boundaries, and communication skills.

The Ministry of Discipleship

The ministry of discipleship is another way to cultivate emotionally healthy discipleship.

Find a mentor or a small group of people who can support you on your journey.

In this group, you can share your struggles and receive guidance from others who have gone through similar experiences.

This can be a safe space to open up about your emotions and receive support and encouragement.

Remember, emotional health is just as important as spiritual health.

By investing in emotionally healthy discipleship, you can live a more fulfilled life as a Christian.

The Power of Emotions

Emotions are a powerful force that can greatly impact your life, including your spiritual journey.

Understanding your emotions and how they relate to your spirituality is key to achieving emotional health.

In this section, we’ll explore the power of emotions and their relationship to spirituality.

Understanding Anger, Sadness, and Fear

Anger, sadness, and fear are three of the most common emotions that people experience.

While they may seem negative, they can actually be powerful tools for growth and self-awareness.

Anger can be a signal that something is wrong or unjust.

It can motivate you to take action and make positive changes in your life or the world around you.

However, it’s important to manage your anger in a healthy way, so it doesn’t become destructive.

Sadness can be a sign that you need to slow down and take care of yourself.

It can also be an opportunity to reflect on your life and make changes that will lead to greater happiness and fulfillment.

Fear can be a natural response to uncertainty or danger.

It can also be a sign that you need to take steps to protect yourself or make changes in your life.

However, it’s important not to let fear control you or prevent you from living your life to the fullest.

Emotions and Spirituality

Emotions and spirituality are deeply interconnected.

Your emotions can have a profound impact on your spiritual journey, and your spirituality can help you manage your emotions in a healthy way.

An emotionally healthy spirituality involves being aware of your emotions, accepting them, and using them as a tool for growth and self-awareness.

It also involves developing a deep sense of connection with yourself, others, and the universe.

Incorporating practices like meditation, prayer, and mindfulness into your spiritual practice can help you develop emotional intelligence and greater emotional health.

These practices can help you cultivate a sense of inner peace and balance, even in the face of difficult emotions.

Overall, the power of emotions cannot be underestimated.

By understanding and managing your emotions in a healthy way, you can achieve greater emotional health and a deeper connection to your spirituality.

Setting Boundaries for Healthy Spirituality

As you strive for emotionally healthy spirituality, it’s important to set boundaries that help you maintain your mental and emotional well-being.

Here are some tips for setting boundaries that will help you cultivate a healthy spiritual life.

The Importance of Limits

Setting limits is an important part of creating boundaries that support your emotional and spiritual health.

This means being clear about what you will and will not tolerate in your relationships, your work, and your spiritual practices.

For example, you might set limits around the amount of time you spend on social media or watching TV, or you might establish boundaries around the types of conversations you’re willing to have with friends or family members.

You might also set limits around the amount of work you take on or the types of projects you’re willing to work on.

Rest and Sabbath

Rest and Sabbath are also important components of healthy spirituality.

Taking time to rest and recharge is essential for maintaining your emotional and spiritual well-being.

This might mean taking a day off each week to rest and focus on your spiritual practices, or it might mean taking regular breaks throughout the day to recharge your batteries.

It might also mean taking a vacation or retreat to get away from the stresses of daily life and reconnect with your spiritual self.

In conclusion, setting boundaries around your time, energy, and relationships can help you cultivate a healthy spiritual life.

By establishing limits and taking time to rest and recharge, you can create a more sustainable spiritual practice that supports your overall well-being.

Transforming Through Spirituality

If you want to live a fulfilling life, you need to have a healthy spirituality.

Spirituality is not just about religion, it’s about finding meaning and purpose in life.

When you have a healthy spirituality, you are more likely to be emotionally mature and resilient.

Here are two ways that spirituality can transform your life.

The Spiritual Revolution

The spiritual revolution is a movement that is happening all over the world.

People are realizing that they don’t need to be religious to have a healthy spirituality.

They are exploring different spiritual practices and finding what works for them.

The spiritual revolution is about breaking down the barriers between different religions and finding a common ground.

It’s about creating a more inclusive and compassionate world.

Spiritual Transformation

Spiritual transformation is the process of becoming spiritually mature.

It’s about letting go of old beliefs and attitudes that no longer serve you.

It’s about developing a deeper understanding of yourself and the world around you.

Spiritual transformation can be a difficult process, but it’s worth it.

When you are spiritually transformed, you are more likely to be emotionally healthy and resilient.

If you want to experience the benefits of spirituality, you need to be open to change.

You need to be willing to explore different spiritual practices and find what works for you.

You need to be willing to let go of old beliefs and attitudes that no longer serve you.

When you do this, you will experience a spiritual transformation that will change your life.

Resources for Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

If you’re looking to deepen your understanding of emotionally healthy spirituality, there are a variety of resources available to help you on your journey.

Here are a few that we recommend:

The Updated Edition Workbook

The Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Workbook, updated edition, is a valuable resource for anyone looking to cultivate emotional health and spiritual maturity.

This workbook is designed to be used in conjunction with the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Course, but it can also be used on its own.

The workbook includes exercises, discussion questions, and practical tips that will help you apply the principles of emotionally healthy spirituality to your daily life.

The updated edition of the workbook is available for purchase on the EHD website and at retail bookstores.

The retail price is $14.99, but EHD members receive a discounted price of $11.99.

Podcasts and Other Resources

In addition to the workbook, there are a number of podcasts and other resources available to help you grow in emotionally healthy spirituality.

The Emotionally Healthy Leader Podcast: This podcast, hosted by Peter Scazzero, explores the intersection of emotional health and leadership. Each episode features interviews with experts in the field of emotional health and spirituality.

The Emotionally Healthy Woman Podcast: This podcast, hosted by Geri Scazzero, focuses on the unique challenges that women face in cultivating emotional health and spiritual maturity.

New Life Fellowship Church: New Life Fellowship Church, located in Queens, NY, is the home of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. The church offers a variety of resources and programs to help individuals and communities grow in emotional health and spiritual maturity.

Zondervan: Zondervan is a leading publisher of Christian books and resources. They offer a number of books and resources on the topic of emotionally healthy spirituality, including Peter Scazzero’s bestselling book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.

Whether you prefer podcasts, books, or in-person resources, there are many options available to help you grow in emotionally healthy spirituality.

Take some time to explore these resources and find the ones that work best for you.

Incorporating emotionally healthy spirituality into your life can greatly enhance your relationship with God and those around you.

By prioritizing self-care and emotional well-being, you can better love Christ above all else and love others well.

Remember that emotional health is not just about feeling good, but also about being able to handle difficult emotions and situations in a healthy way.

This requires self-awareness, self-compassion, and a willingness to seek help when needed.

One way to cultivate emotionally healthy spirituality is to prioritize time for rest and relaxation, such as through meditation, prayer, or simply taking a break from technology.

It’s also important to engage in activities that bring you joy and fulfillment, whether that’s spending time with loved ones, pursuing a hobby, or volunteering in your community.

In addition, it’s important to be intentional about your relationships, setting healthy boundaries and communicating openly and honestly with those around you.

This can help foster deeper connections and prevent burnout or resentment.

Overall, incorporating emotionally healthy spirituality into your life is a journey that requires ongoing effort and self-reflection.

But by prioritizing your emotional well-being, you can better love Christ and others, and live a more fulfilling and joyful life.

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Daria Burnett

Daria Burnett is an author and numerologist. She has written several books on numerology and astrology, including the recent Amazon bestseller " Angel Numbers Explained ."

Daria has also been studying astrology, the Tarot, and natural healing practices for many years, and has written widely on these topics.

She is a gifted intuitive who is able to help her clients make the best choices for their lives. She has a deep understanding of spirituality, and uses her knowledge to help others find their true purpose in life.

You can also find Daria on Twitter , YouTube , Instagram , Facebook , Medium , MuckRack , and Amazon .

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The decoding of the human spirit: a synergy of spirituality and character strengths toward wholeness.

Ryan M. Niemiec\r\n

  • 1 VIA Institute on Character, Cincinnati, OH, United States
  • 2 Department of Counseling and Human Development, Achva Academic College, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel
  • 3 Department of Psychology, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, KY, United States

Little attention has been given to the integral relationship between character strengths and spirituality (the search for or communing with the sacred to derive meaning and purpose). The science of character strengths has surged in recent years with hundreds of studies, yet with minimal attention to spirituality or the literature thereof. At the same time, the science of spirituality has steadily unfolded over the last few decades and has offered only occasional attention to select strengths of character (e.g., humility, love, and forgiveness) or the universal typology of the VIA classification of character strengths and virtues. In this exploration, we argue that there is a robust synergy of these sciences and practices revealing that spirituality is vitally concerned with promoting character strengths. At the same time, character strengths can enhance and deepen spiritual practices, rituals, and experiences. We elaborate on how character strengths and spirituality come together in the context of the psycho-spiritual journey toward wholeness. By wholeness, we are referring to a way of being in the world that involves a life-affirming view of oneself and the world, a capacity to see and approach life with breadth and depth and the ability to organize the life journey into a cohesive whole. We further discuss six levels by which spirituality can be integrated within the VIA Classification, including a meta-perspective in which wholeness represents a meta-strength or superordinate virtue. We frame two pathways of integration: the grounding path, in which character strengths offer tangibility and thereby deepen and enhance spirituality, and the sanctification path, in which spirituality elevates character strengths. Finally, we turn to research-based practices and examine how character strengths might facilitate and contribute to spiritual practices and, conversely, how spirituality might enhance character strength practices. Such multifaceted integration offers insight and wisdom to both areas of study and opens up new directions for psycho-spiritual research and practices to deepen and broaden our understanding of what it means to be human.

“If a man is to live, he must be all alive, body, soul, mind, heart, spirit.” – Thomas Merton


Spirituality is a significant and universal aspect of human experience. The specific content of spiritual belief, practice, and experience varies, but all cultures have a concept of an ultimate, transcendent, sacred, or divine force ( Peterson and Seligman, 2004 ). Spirituality is consistently defined by scientists as the search for, or communion with, the sacred ( Pargament et al., 2013b ). This has become nearly a consensual definition among scientists in the study of spirituality as this definition is reflected in approximately two-thirds of studies on the topic ( Kapuscinski and Masters, 2010 ). Embedded in this definition are three core concepts – the sacred or the transcendent (beyond the ordinary), a connection or relationship with the sacred, and the search for ultimate meaning or purpose ( Mayseless and Russo-Netzer, 2017 ). In this way, spirituality could be both a result of meaning/purpose or the source of meaning/purpose. The word “sacred” most commonly refers to God, higher power, divinity, or qualities associated with the divine, such as transcendence, ultimacy, boundlessness, and deep connectedness. People can experience the sacred through a variety of channels, such as a sense of connection, closeness, or oneness with the transcendent, a theistic being, oneself, humanity, all living beings, or nature ( Davis et al., 2015 ).

The term “search” refers to the process of discovering, maintaining, and at times transforming a relationship with the sacred. People can search for the sacred within traditional religious contexts as well as nontraditional contexts. Moreover, pathways to the sacred can take the form of spiritual practices, such as meditation and prayer; spiritual beliefs, such as beliefs in an afterlife or karma; spiritual relationships with family, friends, or institutions; and spiritual experiences such as mystical encounters and sacred moments ( Pargament et al., 2013b ). It is important to add that spirituality has demonstrated a potential to bring out both the best and the worst in human nature (e.g., Pargament, 2002 ). We will predominantly focus here on the brighter side of spirituality.

An extensive body of scientific research has found that spirituality plays an important role in mental well-being (e.g., Paloutzian and Park, 2013 ; Pargament et al., 2013a ) and physical health ( Koenig et al., 2012 ) and also serves as a protective factor in psychological adjustment to negative life experiences (e.g., Gall and Guirguis-Younger, 2013 ).

Character strengths are also universal ( Peterson and Seligman, 2004 ). Character strengths are defined as positive personality traits that are core to identity, elicit positive outcomes (e.g., improved well-being, relationships, health, meaning, and achievement), and contribute to the collective good ( Niemiec, 2018 ). Modern research from a 3-year collaboration of scientists ( Peterson and Seligman, 2004 ) involved an investigation into common humanity and the qualities of a full and meaningful life. From the “fruits of the spirit” of Saint Aquinas (1989) to the character strengths and virtues outlined by Benjamin Franklin and King Charlemagne, major texts in virtue, theology, psychology, and related fields were reviewed. Remarkable parallels across these works – spanning ancient philosophies and each of the major world religions – were found ( Dahlsgaard et al., 2005 ). The result of this impressive project was the VIA classification of character strengths and virtues ( Peterson and Seligman, 2004 ), a common language of 24 positive qualities that make us most human. These 24 character strengths nest under universal virtues; for example, the character strengths of curiosity and creativity fall under the wisdom virtue, bravery, and honesty under courage, love, and social intelligence under humanity, teamwork, and fairness under justice, forgiveness and prudence under temperance, and hope and gratitude under transcendence.

Studies confirmed the existence of these character strengths among human beings across cultures, nations, and beliefs ( Park et al., 2006 ; McGrath, 2015 ), including people living in some of the most remote cultures on the planet, largely disconnected from modern society ( Biswas-Diener, 2006 ). Following the emergence of this classification of human strengths, over 700 scientific studies have been published offering further validation for this typology ( VIA Institute, 2020 ). Considering the breadth of studies on character strengths in recent years, it is surprising how few have formally examined the VIA classification of character strengths and spirituality. A couple of exceptions are Schuurmans-Stekhoven (2011) and Berthold and Ruch (2014) , discussed later.

This article will explore the integration of spirituality and character strengths and consider how spirituality serves as a unique lens through which we can view, understand, and perhaps enhance character strengths, as well as how the latest science, core concepts, and best practices in character strengths inform and deepen our understanding of spirituality and offer the potential to advance spiritual practices and experiences. To provide an integrative framework, we reflect on research from a variety of methodologies and sources such as quantitative, qualitative/phenomenological, theological, psychosociological, philosophical, and other fields, as this integration requires insight from multiple perspectives as opposed to being rooted solely in one field such as positive psychology or theology.

An important initial question might be posed: why discuss the integration of character strengths and spirituality? We offer a number of thoughts on this.

•Simply put, these areas of character strengths and spirituality are the backbone of the human experience. The science of character strengths offers a wide range of practices that can be applied to spirituality and spiritual contexts, and the science of spirituality can bring unique insights to enhance our understanding and embracing of our identity – who we are at our basic core.

•Furthermore, given that processes of spiritual change and development are evident both within and outside the boundaries of institutional religious practices and traditions and considered to be “a change in the meaning system that a person holds as a basis for self-definition, the interpretation of life, and overarching purposes and ultimate concerns” ( Paloutzian, 2005 , p. 334), they inherently involve the use of character strengths.

•Character strengths and spirituality sit within domains of virtue, what people hold sacred, the fulfilled life, meaning and purpose, wisdom, the pursuit of moral goodness, and the enhancement of what matters most to people such as cultivating good relationships and making a positive impact on the world. In this regard, the integration of spirituality with character strengths and virtues creates an opportunity to make these positive outcomes, aspirations, and pursuits more deliberate, conscious, and a more likely reality for individuals and groups ( Sandage and Hill, 2001 ).

•Both spirituality and character strengths share an interest in the promotion of greater wholeness. Wholeness is a dimension of well-being that goes beyond any single spiritual attribute, character strength, or virtue. Instead, it speaks to people in their entirety ( Pargament et al., 2016 ; Russo-Netzer, 2017b ). It is also multilayered and dynamic and can manifest itself in diverse ways. Wholeness has three defining features ( Pargament et al., 2016 , in press ). First, it involves the capacity to see and approach life with breadth and depth. As a being of breadth, the individual is singular yet also a part of a larger collective, someone with a past, present, and future, a container of good and bad, and someone who knows, experiences, acts, and relates. As a being of depth, the individual is able to see beyond ordinary material existence and address matters of what theologian Tillich (1957) called “ultimate concern.” Second, wholeness involves a life-affirming view of oneself and the world. This view is filled with hope, support, and compassion in relation to oneself, other people, the world, the sacred, and life itself. Third, wholeness involves the ability to organize the life journey into a cohesive whole. Here we are referring to the capacity to put thoughts, values, emotions, actions, and relationships into an integrated totality. This mirrors what James (1936) described as moving from a divided self to a unified self, which he explained is a central spiritual task of optimal development. This capacity for wholeness, in turn, requires several specific qualities, including an authentic guiding vision, wisdom and discernment, balance, and the ability to live with paradoxes, limitations, and complexities ( Russo-Netzer, 2017b ).

Virtue is a way of being, Aristotle explained, but an acquired and lasting way of being: it is what we are (and therefore what we can do), and what we are is what we have become.… it is our way of being and acting humanly … our power to act well .
Perhaps ultimately, spiritual simply means experiencing wholeness and interconnectedness directly, a seeing that individuality and the totality are interwoven, that nothing is separate or extraneous. If you see in this way, then everything becomes spiritual in its deepest sense. Doing science is spiritual. So is washing the dishes.

This integration offers a way by which we might see, experience, live, and relate to ourselves, to others, and to the world.

The Harmony of Spirituality and Character Strengths

Existing links in the via classification model.

There are a number of models that have linked one or more character strengths to spirituality in an important way. For example, Koenig describes strengths and virtues, such as forgiveness, gratitude, and humility, as mediators linking spirituality and health ( Koenig et al., 2012 ). In fact, within most models or ways of thinking about spirituality, one would be hard-pressed not to discover one or more character strengths as an important part of the model.

The casual observer and user of the VIA classification may not be struck by the role of spirituality that can be interpreted within it. However, a careful examination of the VIA classification reveals several levels by which spirituality is infused, explicitly and implicitly. Each is relevant to our reflections on the integration of spirituality and character strengths. We start with the most specific and broaden from there.

Strength Level: Single Strength

The most obvious point of integration is the direct labeling of one of the 24 character traits that are ubiquitous in human beings as the strength of spirituality. This strength is defined in the VIA classification model as knowing where one fits within the larger scheme; and having beliefs about the meaning of life that shape conduct and provide comfort ( Peterson and Seligman, 2004 ). There are several dimensions to this strength: it can be expressed through feelings and practices relating to interconnectedness, virtue, calling, religious ritual, faith, nature, meaning in life, and purpose ( Niemiec and McGrath, 2019 ). This level represents a concrete integration of the sacred already existing within the VIA model. However, we argue that this is merely a starting point for the other levels of integration and the wider synergy discussed in this paper.

Strength Level: Spiritually Oriented Strengths

There are a number of specific character strengths in the VIA classification that are embedded in the sacred literatures of the world’s major religious traditions. For example, concepts of forgiveness are mentioned 234 times in the Qur’an ( Rye et al., 2000 ). Moreover, theologians, religious leaders, and scientists in the broader field of spirituality would agree that many character strengths in the VIA classification are clearly “spiritual” in nature. These include, but are not limited to, the character strengths of humility, gratitude, forgiveness, awe (appreciation of beauty), kindness, hope, fairness, and love (for example, Saroglou et al., 2008 ; Carlisle and Tsang, 2013 ; Davis and Hook, 2014 ).

Virtue Level: Single Virtue

The strength of spirituality is nested within the larger virtue category called transcendence. Transcendence is a term from the spiritual literature that refers to moving beyond the concrete, physical world and connecting outside oneself. The original framing for the virtue of transcendence is strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning ( Peterson and Seligman, 2004 ). Other strengths under the virtue category of transcendence include gratitude, hope, appreciation of beauty and excellence, and humor, although the latter has subsequently been shown scientifically to align better with other virtues such as wisdom and humanity ( Ruch and Proyer, 2015 ).

Virtue Level: All Six Virtues

The specific six virtues in the VIA classification – wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence – were derived from examining the common threads or truths across all the major world religions, as well as ancient philosophies ( Dahlsgaard et al., 2005 ). In other words, these virtues are prominent and important spiritual pathways to the sacred found in the major world religions.

All 24 Character Strengths as Psycho-Spiritual Qualities

We argue that each of the 24 character strengths holds the capacity to be “spiritual,” or a psycho-spiritual quality. While some strengths are more obviously aligned with spirituality (see section Strength Level: Spiritually Oriented Strengths), those less obviously aligned not only correlate with spirituality (McGrath, 2013, Unpublished) but have been shown in studies to be particularly important to it. Take the strength of self-regulation or self-control, for example, which is not traditionally viewed as a spiritual strength (although temperance is certainly a related spiritual virtue). Studies have found substantial connections in which higher levels of spirituality or the priming of spirituality led to improvements in self-regulation ( Laurin et al., 2011 ; Watterson and Giesler, 2012 ). Another example is the link between creativity and spirituality (e.g., Borooah and Devi, 2015 ). These less obvious spiritually related strengths have the potential to add richness, depth, and perspective to self-transcendence, spiritual expression, and development.

In a related way, Peterson and Seligman (2004) offered “morally valued” as one of the main criteria for establishing and describing each of the 24 character strengths. While they were not referring to morally valued in the spiritual or sacred context, we find their comments relevant here. They explained that some character strengths are obviously morally valued, such as love and fairness, while other strengths are less clear, such as humor. They termed such strengths as “value-added strengths,” meaning that if humor is combined with a blatant morally valued strength (e.g., kindness) then humor becomes morally valued as well. For example, a comedian who uses humor to kindly cheer up sick children at a pediatric hospital would be applying his or her strength of humor in a morally valued way.

We suggest that each of the 24 character strengths can be “spiritual” or sacred and support the individual and community along their psycho-spiritual journey. Each strength is a capacity for expressing goodness – being good, doing good for others, and expressing meaning or purpose in the world. In these ways, coupled with the summation of the preceding levels, the 24 strengths can be viewed as representing a “spiritual language,” or what we call a decoding of the human spirit.

Additional Level: Superordinate or Master Virtue

Wholeness level.

Building from these levels, we hypothesize a meta approach that offers wholeness as an overarching final level. Many researchers have discussed a master strength representing a higher arching virtue by which the other strengths pass through to operate or optimally express themselves – for example, self-regulation ( Baumeister and Vohs, 2004 ), love ( Vaillant, 2008 ), humility ( Lavelock et al., 2017 ), and perspective/social intelligence (practical wisdom; Schwartz and Sharpe, 2006 ). We offer another perspective: wholeness. Wholeness shifts our focus away from the search for one key to the life well-lived ( Pargament et al., 2016 ; Russo-Netzer, 2017b ). It embraces the need to wrestle with life in its multifaceted complexity and organize it into a unified whole. To put it colloquially, wholeness has to do with how well we put the bits and pieces of our lives together, and as such, it is an ongoing, vibrant process. Although the movement from brokenness to greater wholeness has received emphasis within religious traditions, wholeness is not the antithesis of brokenness but rather involves a changed relationship to brokenness. Indeed, to be whole we must allow ourselves to get fully involved in life, be vulnerable enough to see our brokenness, and find ways to create a new compelling unity out of the broken pieces. At the core of being human lie paradoxes and dichotomies that contain the whole of existence and encapsulate completeness. The whole life is thus marked by integrity and, as noted, several defining ingredients – breadth and depth, a life-affirming orientation, and cohesiveness.

In imagining this role of master virtue, picture a wheel. Wholeness is at the center or hub of the wheel, and the 24 character strengths are the spokes directing energy toward the hub, as well as receiving energy from it. Wholeness lends unity to all 24 character strengths.

A Spiritual Journey Model Integrating Character Strengths and Spirituality

The spiritual journey is nonlinear, has no final end point, involves conscious and unconscious actions, and (at its best) is morally driven/character driven ( Russo-Netzer, 2016 , 2017a ; Russo-Netzer and Mayseless, 2016 ; Mayseless and Russo-Netzer, 2017 ). It is directed toward a relationship with what is perceived as sacred. Figure 1 shows elements of a model of the spiritual journey through character strengths as a force for wholeness. This model incorporates the three-dimensional developmental elements of Mayseless and Russo-Netzer (2017) , which are rooted in cross-cultural, spiritual, and religious literature. In brief, they argue that spiritual growth occurs across three spatial facets: deep within, up and beyond, and sideways and interconnected. These developmental elements are the “connective tissue” for the meaningful expression of character strengths and spirituality. For example, over time the individual explores, engages with, pursues, and experiences character strengths with the sacred leading toward greater wholeness. This exploring and engagement occurs as the individual (a) uses character strengths (e.g., perspective, judgment) to reach deep within , carefully listening to and connecting with his or her authentic self, discovering inner harmony; (b) uses character strengths (e.g., gratitude, hope) to reach up and beyond as he or she transcends the self and deepens his or her connection with divine or sacred presence and sees things more clearly through the lens of character strengths, such as kindness/compassion, wisdom, and awe or appreciation of beauty; (c) uses character strengths (e.g., humility, social intelligence, love) to reach sideways and connect with others, including all living beings and to see the interconnectedness therein with humankind and the universe.


Figure 1 . Heuristic model for the spiritual journey showing the synergy of character strengths and spirituality toward greater wholeness.

As can be seen in our proposed heuristic model, this connective tissue catalyzed by spirituality and character strengths brings people to authentically face their suffering, challenges, and brokenness as an essential and inherent part of a full life, to connect deeply with others, and to reach up to a greater sacred presence in their journey toward wholeness.

The Reciprocal Relationships Between Spirituality and Character Strengths

We propose that there are two main ways that spirituality and character strengths become integrated and positively impact each other. We use the term path or pathway in a conceptual way, as opposed to using it as a scientific or empirical term that definitively captures causal directions, mediating or moderating effects. To elucidate these “pathways,” we start with either spirituality or character strengths (whichever is the focal point of a research study or the best practice being primarily focused on) and then consider how it is enhanced by the other construct.

We have named the two pathways based on the dynamics we perceive to be occurring within each integration of constructs. First, we consider how character strengths can support, guide, and enhance spirituality – this process will be referred to as the grounding path . Then we examine the reverse direction. The application and use of spirituality to support and enhance character strengths will be referred to as the sanctification path . Each of these pathways is hypothesized as leading to greater wholeness. Below, we offer explanations and examples for each of these paths of integration.

The Grounding Path: Character Strengths → Spirituality → Wholeness

In the grounding path of integration, character strengths enhance spirituality. Through this path, spirituality can become more tangible, accessible, layered, and filled with greater meaning and substance. Imagine a spiritual practice or spiritual experience devoid of love, kindness and compassion, forgiveness, humility, fairness, judgment, and critical thinking, and hope. The grounding path of integration helps deepen the awareness, expression, and meaning of spirituality through everyday experience of CS. As character strengths are ubiquitous qualities in all human beings, across cultures, nations, and beliefs ( Biswas-Diener, 2006 ; Park et al., 2006 ; McGrath, 2015 ), the integration of character strengths into expressions of spirituality provides a way to “universalize” this dimension of human experience. The critical role of character strengths in spirituality was highlighted by Schuurmans-Stekhoven (2011) who found that well-being is more strongly associated with character strengths than spirituality, and that spirituality is related to character strengths more strongly than to well-being. Multivariate analyses showed that character strengths account for the entire positive effect of the relationship between spirituality and well-being, and argued that character strengths might be the best explanation for why spirituality has positive effects.

Any of the 24 character strengths can serve as a pathway in the seeking, dwelling, and/or maintaining of the sacred. They enable an individual to take sacred moments and experiences to a deeper level, such as when a person uses her bravery to face the challenges of being vulnerable with another person or who uses her perseverance to press forward with her spiritual practice even though many obstacles are getting in the way. One can see the potential that the grounding path could have for the person who seeks spirituality or adheres to a set of religious beliefs but is lost in a world of addictive behavior in which self-kindness, perspective, perseverance, and other character strengths are being woefully under-utilized; these strengths and others hold the potential to enhance their spirituality. See Table 1 for examples of character strengths and how each can enhance spirituality; but note that any particular strength can serve many purposes and be applied across various areas of spirituality. The areas of spirituality offered include rituals, practices, experiences, and beliefs ( Hood et al., 2018 ).


Table 1 . Examples of integrating character strengths into different areas of spirituality within the grounding path.

At this point, it is important to note that the character strengths literature suggests that humans can overuse or underuse any of the 24 character strengths ( Niemiec, 2019a ). Research has drawn links between an imbalance among character strengths with psychopathology ( Freidlin et al., 2017 ). For the grounding path, the addition of character strengths has the potential to create a healthy and balanced spirituality that pursues the good for oneself, others, and all beings, and yet imbalances can occur. Too much (overuse) hope may bring a person only to look at the positive side of her religion or spirituality and omit the dark sides or limitations, while too little (underuse) judgment/critical thinking about one’s spiritual beliefs can create a narrow and selfish spiritual worldview. Balancing character strengths calls for greater wholeness, including the qualities of cohesiveness, flexibility, and discernment. It has been suggested that a grounded, everyday spirituality is one that is flexible to allow exploration and inquiry, rather than rigidity, and encourages openness and pluralism ( Russo-Netzer, 2017b ).

The grounding pathway of integration can also be viewed through the lens of existing spiritual models and spiritual programs in which character strengths are likely present and enhance spirituality in some way. For example, in a 4-week program addressing spiritual struggles in a religious context, sessions focused on the value of virtue, the problem with perfection, growth and grace, and relapse and reconciliation ( Ano et al., 2017 ). Multiple character strengths – although not necessarily made explicit – can be seen in each session, such as forgiveness (the focus on cultivating this strength), hope (the focus on future growth), self-regulation (a focus on seeing the limits of self-control), spirituality (the focus on pursuing grace), and perseverance (a focus on overcoming barriers), to name just a few strength pathways designed to improve spirituality. This program was successful in helping people cultivate their virtues and resist their vices.

The Sanctification Path: Spirituality → Character Strengths → Wholeness

The other way spirituality and character strengths can become integrated is through the sanctification path. This path involves the exploration, integration, and impact of spirituality upon character strengths. Sanctification is not used in a theological sense here. Rather, it refers to the psychological process of perceiving aspects of life as manifestations of God or as containing qualities often associated with the divine, such as transcendence, boundlessness, ultimacy, and deep connectedness ( Pargament and Mahoney, 2005 ). A growing body of research has pointed to the benefits of instilling life domains – marriage, family, the environment, strivings, moments in time, work – with deeper spiritual meaning ( Powerleau et al., 2016 ). People are more likely to invest in, preserve, and protect sacred aspects of life. They draw on what they hold sacred as sources of strength and inspiration. They also derive greater satisfaction, purpose, and mental health benefits from sacred objects and experience.

Any of the 24 character strengths could also be imbued with spiritual significance and meaning, lending motivational power to the strength. While each character strength has been described as a capacity for thinking, feeling, and behaving ( Park et al., 2004 ), we believe the dimension of sacred could be added in that each character strength has the capacity to be perceived as sacred. Thus, when a strength is sanctified, its sacred dimension is being tapped into and potentially expressed.

For example, one might tap into the sacred in the character strength of love in one’s relationship with one’s spouse or child, thereby enhancing the sanctity of that bond and further increasing the love. A more general example is found in spirituality exemplars, or individuals who are living their truth and modeling a life that pursues the sacred in a positive way. Such individuals might be apt to express a wider range of character strengths because of their strong spiritual approach; in many cases, their spiritual life would not only include strengths such as kindness, humility, honesty, and forgiveness but perhaps also judgment/critical thinking, curiosity, perseverance, and leadership. Hence, the power of the sacred is being tapped in these less traditionally spiritual strengths and as a result of the spiritual living. Although relatively little research from either field has focused directly on the sanctification of character strengths (e.g., Todd et al., 2014 ), we believe the process of sanctification could uplift or expand character strengths. Sanctification can lend the domain of character strength a larger significance or sense of purpose. Viewed through the lens of the sacred, any character strength can become broadened and deepened.

We demonstrate this integration in Table 2 using character strength and appreciation of beauty, in the context of a simple example of someone stepping outside their house into the outdoors where nature can be seen.


Table 2 . Three responses to beauty by a person walking into a nature scene, illustrating the distinction of the sanctification path.

It is important to add that the processes of sanctification and character strengths in turn can be cultivated within traditional or nontraditional spiritual contexts. Spiritual and religious systems, and often the leaders therein, frequently and explicitly encourage people to see character strengths as fruits of the spirit, expressions of what it means to be a good religious person, be it a good Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu ( Pargament and Mahoney, 2005 ). For instance, within Christianity, members often hear the verse “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). Similarly, Jews are taught: “… what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). Sanctification can also grow out of spiritual practices, rituals, or living a spiritually focused life. Simply sitting mindfully with or savoring a character strength can instill it with deeper spiritual value ( Bryant and Veroff, 2007 ).

A focus on spirituality through spiritual practices seems to be linked with greater expression of character strengths. Berthold and Ruch (2014) , for example, compared religious people who practice their religion, religious people who do not practice their religion, and people who are not religious. The group that practiced their religion reported a more meaningful life and scored higher on the strengths of kindness, love, hope, forgiveness, and spirituality compared with the other groups.

Practical Implications: the Synergy of Spirituality and Character Strengths

This section offers a dual integrative approach, first highlighting evidence-based practices from the field of spirituality and how they are or might be enhanced by character strengths (the grounding path of integration). Then, we turn to the literature on character strength interventions and illustrate how spirituality can serve as an important lens or enhancer of strengths (the sanctification path of integration).

Practices for the Grounding Path

There are a number of traditional or nontraditional spiritual practices that could serve as the backbone for the discussion here, such as types of prayer, meditation, sacred readings, exposure to nature (e.g., forest bathing), exposure to the creative arts and humanities, and a variety of rituals. Below we sample five spiritual practices that have been linked with positive outcomes (e.g., well-being). We then discuss how character strengths are already an intricate active ingredient within that practice and/or how they could be woven into each practice to enhance or support it.

Develop a Lens for the Sacred

This activity involves developing a more finely tuned mindset, or lens, through which one perceives and discovers the sacred ( Powerleau et al., 2016 ). There are a number of avenues and successful pathways for cultivating this lens, such as creating space and time to explore sacred moments ( Goldstein, 2007 ; Pargament et al., 2014 ), synchronicity experiences ( Russo-Netzer and Icekson, 2020 ), taking a personal striving approach that links with spiritual goals or ultimate concerns ( Schnitker and Emmons, 2013 ), and mantra use ( Wachholtz and Pargament, 2005 ). Ultimately, this practice is about becoming a good spiritual explorer. The character strength of curiosity can be deliberately deployed in this seeking, perceiving, and exploring of what might be or is sacred to oneself. Curiosity facilitates the openness of asking exploratory questions to ponder upon oneself or discuss with others, while the strength of judgment/critical thinking can help discern healthy and harmful spirituality ( Pargament, 1997 ; Magyar-Russell and Griffith, 2016 ). Other wisdom-oriented character strengths such as perspective encourage the individual to reflect on past experiences of the sacred. Similarly, creativity can catalyze brainstorming future approaches to facilitate a closer connection with the sacred.

Cultivate Sacred Moments

Character strengths not only have a role in developing a spiritual lens but also in the active dwelling in or experience of spiritual moments. Empirical studies have shown that the experience of sacred moments in life is associated with a number of mental health benefits, including greater meaning, purpose, and life satisfaction ( Pargament et al., 2014 ). Building on this literature, providers have begun to create and evaluate programs that cultivate sacred moments, and character strengths can be important elements of the path. For example, McCorkle (2005) developed a 10-week manualized intervention to increase perception of sacredness in life through didactic material, discussion, and meditation. Each week focused on the sacredness embodied in a different aspect of life, including various attributes related to character strengths, such as gratitude, giving and receiving gifts, kindness to oneself, and meaning and purpose. They evaluated the effectiveness of the program with clients dealing with social anxiety. Qualitative data indicated that the program was effective in enhancing the sense of sacredness, which, in turn, fostered greater wholeness by expanding attentional focus, interrupting maladaptive thinking, and shifting behaviors that maintain social anxiety.

Similarly, Goldstein (2007 , p. 1003) developed a 3-week mindfulness intervention to help people become “aware of the sacred qualities arising from moment to moment.” The program was tied to several benefits: greater spiritual well-being, greater psychological well-being, lower levels of perceived stress and greater daily spiritual experiences. In addition, focusing on sacred moments allowed participants greater access to both positive and negative emotions. Thus, the intervention appeared to encourage more wholeness by broadening and deepening emotional experience. Character strengths, which can be made explicit in cultivating sacred moments, can expand the range of possible experiences for the individual and can also play a role in grounding the person in virtuous behavior.

Learn From Your Spiritual Role Models

Positive influencers, role models, or exemplars are important for many facets of life and are critical enablers of many character strengths ( Peterson and Seligman, 2004 ). Spiritual models are defined as personal or prominent figures in one’s life who function as exemplars of spiritual qualities for the observer ( Oman et al., 2012 ). The importance of spiritual models and/or teachers as exemplars of spiritual development and change is evident in all spiritual and religious traditions ( Oman and Thoresen, 2003 ). Interventions involving learning from spiritual role models have been shown to positively influence nonmaterialistic aspirations and self-efficacy for learning ( Oman et al., 2007 ). For this practice, an important first step is to name the positive model or exemplar and describe how this person has been a positive influence and what has been learned from her. We propose character strengths as a valuable addition to this practice. Individuals could be encouraged to explore how character strengths influence this person and catalyze her positive and moral behavior, with questions such as, which character strengths do you appreciate most about this spiritual figure? How do they express these strengths in their actions? If you have had direct contact with this person, what character strengths do you suppose she saw in you? The questions about character strengths bring the spiritual model down-to-earth and serve as a reminder of their humanity as well as the common humanity shared with the observer. This offers an opportunity for enhanced self-efficacy as the observer is empowered to copy the character strengths of the role model in their own way.

Find Your Calling or Purpose in Life

Pargament (2007 , p. 218) delineated a variety of psycho-spiritual assessment probes designed to help clients discover the deeper purpose in their lives. These questions include: “What are you striving for in your life? Why is it important that you are here in this world? What legacy would you like to leave behind in your life? To what or whom are you most devoted?” In order to bring character strengths into this intervention, we propose individuals be shown the list of character strengths and definitions and explore additional questions: think of a time when you pursued something particularly meaningful; which character strengths were you using most strongly? What are your “purpose-oriented” character strengths, those strengths that give you a deep sense of purpose when you use them? Which character strengths are important as part of your life legacy?

Character strengths have been found to boost calling and purpose in life. For example, in one study of the workplace, those employees who used four or more of their signature strengths at work had significantly higher levels of viewing work as a calling ( Harzer and Ruch, 2012 ). Other studies have found certain character strengths, on average, correlate consistently highly with purpose in life – having clear goals in life and having a sense of directedness as well as holding beliefs that give life purpose. Five character strengths – curiosity, perseverance, zest, hope, and self-regulation – are among the strongest correlates of purpose in life across different studies, while a second grouping of strengths shows significant correlations with purpose, though not as strong as the first group – love, honesty, bravery, perspective, love of learning, and creativity ( Harzer, 2016 ). These findings point to another pathway for boosting purpose and calling in life: an individual can directly target one or more of these character strengths – especially those in the first grouping – as a route toward purpose.

Cultivate Deep Meaning in Life

Theorists and researchers have delineated three main types of meaning: coherence, significance, and purpose ( George and Park, 2016 ; Martela and Steger, 2016 ). As we focused on purpose earlier, we’ll discuss the other two areas in this practice.

Coherence is the reflection-oriented level of meaning. It is about making sense of one’s life and considering how everything fits together when considering oneself and the universe. Character strengths can be used to enhance coherence. Examples include tapping into the strength of perspective to step back and take a wider view of life so that one does not get lost in the downpour of details and stressors; using judgment/critical thinking to analyze one’s beliefs about the world and the people in it; and enlisting curiosity to question and explore life meaning and sense-making as a greater whole.

Significance is the feeling-oriented level of meaning. It involves feeling that one matters and that life matters, not only sensing and knowing the value of life but feeling that appreciation for oneself, others, and the world in a deep way. For significance, the heart-based character strengths are likely to be of central importance. An individual might consider situations in which they have deeply expressed their strengths of love, gratitude, kindness, and forgiveness and then reflect on how they have used these strengths strongly in a positive way in one of their closest relationships and how they have contributed to their sense of significance and validation.

Practices for the Sanctification Path

We present a sampling of five character strengths practices that have been closely tied to positive outcomes (e.g., happiness). We then discuss how spirituality can be woven into these practices to amplify, widen or support these practices.

Strengths-Spotting Practices

The spotting of character strengths in others is one of the most common practices for recognizing, understanding, and expressing character strengths and for drawing links between abstract positive constructs and concrete behaviors. The main elements of the strengths-spotting process involve labeling the character strengths that are observed in an individual and offering an explanation, rationale, or behavioral evidence for each strength to that person ( Niemiec, 2018 ). Research in the education context has shown that teachers’ use of strengths-spotting facilitates positive student outcomes, such as positive affect, classroom engagement, and needs satisfaction ( Quinlan et al., 2019 ). One way to bring spirituality into this process is to weave in “spirituality-spotting.” The strengths-spotter can actively look for instances in which an individual manifests his spirituality, expresses deep meaning in life, or appears to be engaging with the sacred. The observer then offers this feedback to the person explaining what she observed. This is likely to generate new insights for the receiver.

Character Strengths Appreciation

Strengths-spotting can be taken to the next level by adding in an appreciation component. Appreciation is one of the main functions of character strengths and involves expressions to other people of how important or of value they are for their strengths expression – it is a valuing of who they are at their core ( Niemiec, 2019b ). Research has found that couples who recognize and appreciate the character strengths of their partner have higher relationship satisfaction, needs satisfaction, and relationship commitment ( Kashdan et al., 2017 ).

As an intervention for a couple (or a friendship or other close relationship), the individuals might share examples of stories in which they saw the other person use character strengths and express appreciation to them for each of those strengths ( Niemiec, 2018 ). This could be bolstered by encouraging the couple to reflect on the sacredness of the sharing experience; namely, how it was special, particularly intimate, or holy for them.

Target any Character Strength

Research has found that personality traits, and thereby character strengths, are malleable and can be impacted by deliberate interventions, among other phenomena ( Borghans et al., 2008 ; Hudson and Fraley, 2015 ; Roberts et al., 2017 ). For example, randomized studies have shown that character strengths interventions can enhance the levels of strengths ( Schutte and Malouf, 2018 ). Individuals interested in bolstering their bravery, perseverance, gratitude, or hope can set that strength as their target and engage in attentional, volitional, and behavioral practices to build it up. Each strength has tailored interventions (see Niemiec, 2018 ), such as recounting funny things to boost humor ( Gander et al., 2013 ), counting blessings to boost gratitude ( Seligman et al., 2005 ), or engaging in divergent thinking to build creativity ( Scott et al., 2004 ).

After the individual does an intervention with any strength, they can then infuse the strength with the sacred. The person might sanctify the strength mentally by seeing it as part of their spirit, or sanctify it by connecting it with a special object, imbuing the symbolic object with sacred qualities in the quiet space of meditation, prayer, and appreciation (e.g., Goldstein, 2007 ). This process can highlight the value and importance of the strength for one’s life and for the benefit of others ( Niemiec, 2014 ).

Mental Subtraction

One of the most poignant and visceral character strength activities is a well-being boosting activity involving mental subtraction ( Koo et al., 2008 ; Ang et al., 2015 ). This task is referred to as “subtract a signature strength” ( Niemiec, 2018 ). The activity invites individuals to imagine their life for 1 month without being able to use one of their signature strengths; they notice how they would be impacted and then describe their emotional experience. Common reactions include feeling lost, panicky, de-energized, bereft, and useless. This highlights the importance of one’s highest traits of character in daily life.

A natural fit here would be the addition of participants reflecting on meaning and the sacred. Following the mental subtraction, participants would be asked: what does your reaction say about what you hold sacred or what matters most to you? How does this signature strength you chose help you create and express deep meaning and value in your life? How might this strength be sacred for you?

Positive Reappraisal

Reframing, or positive reappraisal, is an intervention in which individuals mindfully reframe a stressful situation, event, or perception of a person as benign, valuable, or beneficial ( Folkman, 1997 ; Garland et al., 2009 ). This activity can yield a more complete, honest, and balanced perspective for the situation. Character strengths are injected into the reappraisal and help reframe the problem or person in more constructive ways (e.g., stubbornness can be seen as a reflection of perseverance; inattentiveness can be a feature of curiosity; and hyperactivity can be an expression of zest; Niemiec, 2018 ).

To catalyze or reinforce a positive reappraisal, participants are encouraged to explore what they learned from the stressful event or how they grew or improved as a result of the problem. Spirituality has a substantive role here. The exploration can be stimulated by a number of questions: how did this problem or conflict contribute to a sense of meaning or sacredness for you? Might you discover the sacred not only within the good but also within your troubles and challenges? Could this situation be reframed as an opportunity for spiritual growth? What did you learn today that has taught you something about what it means to be you? Benevolent spiritual reappraisals have been associated with positive outcomes among hospice caregivers ( Mickley et al., 1998 ). This meaning-loaded exploration also contributes to reappraisals of people who have offended someone in some way. These involve seeing the complex humanity of the person, as a being who has imperfections and flaws and is in need of positive growth and transformation ( Witvliet et al., 2010 ).

Conclusion and Future Directions

The literature on character strengths and spirituality share a concern with human functioning at its best. The fundamental human yearning to make sense of the world around us, to transcend our transient existence, to discover our unique authentic potential and calling, to seek out a relationship with something larger than our limited selves may manifest itself and be conceptualized rather differently through the prisms of spirituality and character strengths but reflect a similar core essence. Although these areas of study have operated to some extent within different silos, we have maintained that there are important theoretical connections, potential meeting points, and synergies between these two domains. We suggested two paths – the grounding path and the sanctification path – through which character strengths and spirituality can come together and facilitate each other. We then presented examples of practices within each established domain that can be enhanced by the integration of character strengths or spirituality.

Such multifaceted integration offers insight and wisdom to both areas of study and opens up new directions for psycho-spiritual research that might further explore how these constructs relate to each other, add practical value to one another, and together contribute to greater human wholeness.

Another robust area of research involves the exploration of individual differences in the experience and manifestation of character strengths and spirituality across the life span and among different cultures and populations. How might the integration of character strengths and spirituality express itself in children, adolescents, at each stage of adulthood, among religious and non-religious, and among those from Eastern, Western, and indigenous cultures? The heuristic model we have presented holds important practical implications for educators, counselors, chaplains, religious leaders, and policy makers. Such a model could be used to catalyze interventions and programs across populations and sectors.

This model can be examined more closely. One angle is through the potential master virtue of wholeness. Qualitative studies could shed important light on how people define and experience wholeness as well as the pathways they take and challenges they encounter in their efforts to realize greater integration in their lives. Empirical studies could develop measures to assess wholeness, such as the Edinger-Schons (2019) measure of oneness beliefs as they relate to life satisfaction. Research could also test the relationships between the 24 character strengths and wholeness with variables relating to growth and well-being. In this vein, Riley et al. (2017) found that several wholeness indicators (e.g., compassion for others, optimism, presence of meaning, a collaborative relationship with God, religious commitment) were linked with measures of growth. Other studies could explicate the points of connection between wholeness and character strengths.

Continuing the advancement of the thoughtful integration of character strengths and spirituality, we believe, offers exciting new directions for what it means to be human and the cultivation of greater wholeness. Exploring new horizons for research and practice may provide a fertile ground for a deeper understanding and cultivation of human flourishing, growth, and a life worth living.

Data Availability Statement

The original contributions presented in the study are included in the article/supplementary material, further inquiries can be directed to the corresponding author.

Author Contributions

Original outline and draft provided by lead author and substantive edits, additions, subtractions, insights, rearrangements, and contributions were made by all three authors. All authors contributed to the article and approved the submitted version.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

The reviewer RB declared a past co-authorship with one of the authors RN to the handling editor.

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Keywords: spirituality, character strengths, wholeness, signature strengths, VIA classification, sacred

Citation: Niemiec RM, Russo-Netzer P and Pargament KI (2020) The Decoding of the Human Spirit: A Synergy of Spirituality and Character Strengths Toward Wholeness. Front. Psychol . 11:2040. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.02040

Received: 16 April 2020; Accepted: 22 July 2020; Published: 04 September 2020.

Reviewed by:

Copyright © 2020 Niemiec, Russo-Netzer and Pargament. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Ryan M. Niemiec, [email protected]

Disclaimer: All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article or claim that may be made by its manufacturer is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.


Essay on Spiritual Health

Students are often asked to write an essay on Spiritual Health in their schools and colleges. And if you’re also looking for the same, we have created 100-word, 250-word, and 500-word essays on the topic.

Let’s take a look…

100 Words Essay on Spiritual Health

What is spiritual health.

Spiritual health means feeling connected to a bigger purpose or belief that guides your actions. It’s not just about religion; it’s about feeling at peace with yourself and the world around you. People find this through different ways like nature, meditation, or helping others.

Why is it Important?

Having good spiritual health helps you handle tough times better. It gives you a sense of calm and strength, knowing you’re part of something bigger. This can make you happier and help you get along better with others.

How to Improve It

Improving your spiritual health can be simple. Spend time in nature, think about what you’re grateful for, or help someone in need. These actions can make you feel more connected and fulfilled. Remember, it’s about finding what feels right for you.

250 Words Essay on Spiritual Health

Spiritual health is about feeling a deep sense of peace and purpose in life. It’s not just about religion or belief in God. It’s more about our inner peace and how we connect with ourselves, others, and the world around us. When we are spiritually healthy, we feel more balanced and content.

Being spiritually healthy is important because it helps us during tough times. Imagine when you’re feeling sad or upset; knowing what makes you feel peaceful can be a big help. It’s like having a strong friend inside you that helps you to keep going, no matter what.

How to Improve Spiritual Health

Improving your spiritual health can be fun and easy. Spending time in nature, like a park or the beach, can help you feel more connected to the world. Also, doing things you love, like playing music or drawing, can help you understand yourself better. Talking with friends and family about your feelings and thoughts is also a great way to grow spiritually.

In short, spiritual health is about feeling good on the inside. It helps us deal with hard times and makes life more enjoyable. By taking small steps like enjoying nature and doing what we love, we can all improve our spiritual health and feel more joyful and peaceful.

500 Words Essay on Spiritual Health

Spiritual health is about feeling a connection to something bigger than ourselves. It helps us find meaning, hope, comfort, and inner peace in our lives. Some people find it through religion, nature, art, music, family, or community. Importantly, it is about how we see the world and our place in it.

Why is Spiritual Health Important?

Being spiritually healthy can help us through tough times. When we face problems, knowing what we believe in gives us strength. It’s like having a friend who is always there for us, making us feel safe and giving us hope. Also, it makes us feel happy and at peace with the world.

Improving our spiritual health doesn’t have to be hard. We can start by spending time in nature, like going for a walk in the park. Nature makes us feel calm and helps us think about life. Talking with friends and family about what we believe in can also help. They might share their beliefs, and we can learn from each other. Another way is to find quiet time for ourselves, maybe by reading or just sitting quietly. This helps us listen to our inner thoughts and feelings.

The Role of Community

Being part of a community can make us feel like we belong. This could be a religious group, a sports team, or a club at school. When we share experiences with others, we learn and grow together. It’s nice to know there are people who care about us and who we can help too.

Challenges to Spiritual Health

Sometimes, life gets busy, and it’s hard to think about our spiritual health. We might feel too tired or think we have more important things to do. It’s normal to feel this way sometimes. But remembering to take a little time for our spiritual health can make a big difference in how we feel.

Spiritual health is a special part of our overall well-being. It helps us understand the world better and find our place in it. By taking small steps to improve our spiritual health, like spending time in nature or with loved ones, we can feel happier and more at peace. Remember, it’s okay to start small, and what works for one person might not work for another. The important thing is to find what makes us feel connected and keep it a part of our lives.

That’s it! I hope the essay helped you.

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Oxford Textbook of Spirituality in Healthcare

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Oxford Textbook of Spirituality in Healthcare

48 Spiritual Well-Being Scale: mental and physical health relationships

  • Published: August 2012
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One essential companion to the concept of spirituality is spiritual well-being (SWB). That is, although the degree and type of spirituality per se can no doubt play an important role in how well a person faces the dilemmas related to health issues, the degree to which a person perceives or derives a sense of wellbeing from that spirituality may be equally or more important. In this connection, SWB is an outcome indicator, or barometer, of how well a person is doing in the face of whatever the person is confronting. Therefore, although SWB is not synonymous with spirituality, it is closely related to it. Similarly, SWB is not synonymous with mental health or physical health, but is likely to be related to both of them. SWB connotes one’s subjective perception of well-being in both the religious and/or existential dimensions in accord with whatever is implicitly or explicitly conceived of as a spiritual umbrella for the individual. The Spiritual Well-Being Scale (SWBS) was developed in order to be a tool for self-assessment of these aspects of general perceived well-being. Since its first publication in 1982, a large body of research has been done with the SWBS. An exhaustive review of all of this research is beyond the scope of this chapter. Here, we focus specifically and selectively on research related to healthcare. We highlight those studies using the SWBS that are related to mental health variables or to the mental and well-being issues that are consequences or correlates of physical health conditions. In order to maximize the usefulness of this chapter, it is necessary to first summarize the intellectual roots of the concept of SWB and what the SWBS does and does not measure, and secondly to explain the meaning and utility of its religious well-being (RWB) and existential well-being (EWB) subscales. We also summarize the literature with the SWBS as related to mental and physical health variables, note any strengths and weaknesses, research directions, and applications of the SWBS, and summarize implications of SWB research for healthy healthcare practice.

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