Spirituality, Happiness & Well-Being Are In Vogue!

Introduction

A quick glance at the news and it would seem that we are living in challenging and troubling times. Potentially catastrophic environmental and climate changes are looming on the horizon. Man’s impact on the planet has been so severe it has ushered in a new geological epoc called the Anthropocene — a geological time period marked by the significant human impact on Earth’s geology and ecosystems. The looming impact of our damage to the planet has even led to increased “anxiety and distress about the implications of climate change, undermining mental health and well-being”. The gap between liberal and conservative political ideologies are widening, nationalist populism and white supremacist views are on the rise around the world, the President of the most powerful nation in the world has normalized racist politics and racist policies, and the exponential growth of various computer, Internet and social-media technologies are negatively impacting mental health for millions of people, especially our youth.

Given the optimistic title of this article, the first paragraph certainly appears to present a gloomy and pessimistic state of affairs for the planet and humankind. However, in spite of he bleak state of affairs described in the first paragraph, this article will outline a number of trends taking place over the last couple decades in the areas of spiritualityhappiness/well-being and psychology which may hold the keys to stemming, even reversing, those gloomy & destructive trends. This article will also suggest that the growing field of transpersonal psychology may play a significant role in helping us better understand the personal transformations and self-transcendence necessary to effect the individual, technological, social and political changes necessary to change the world for the better.

Spiritual But Not Religious

Beginning around the end of the 20th century, there were signs of a growing trend into the scientific study of religion and spirituality and how these practices impacted mental health, happiness and well-being¹. What now appears to be accepted science, is that both religion and spirituality contribute to one’s self-reported levels of subjective well-being² and overall health³. Along with this growing trend of investigations into the science and psychology behind the role of religion and spirituality on well-being, one study¹ also discovered an imbalance between the numbers of articles published around spirituality compared to the number of articles published on religion. What these researchers found was that between the years 1965 and 2000 – although there had been a dramatic increase in the overall number of studies looking into religion, spirituality and health – “the resurgence of interest is almost entirely attributable to the attention devoted to the construct of spirituality” (p. 211), as can be seen in Figure 1.

Johnny Stork - Spirituality vs Religion
Figure 1

Alef Trust - SpiritualityThis growing trend in the number of articles published around spirituality and health up to the year 2000 has not only continued well into the 21st century², but a more recent Pew Research poll also found that fewer people were identifying themselves as “religious”, but with a corresponding increase in people who identified as “spiritual but not religious”⁴. One has to look no further than the bible of mental disorders — the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) — for confirmation of the important role that spirituality and religion are thought to play in mental health. In 1994 the DSV-IV included a new section for “religious or spiritual problems” (DSM). Even the business world has enthusiastically embraced the important role of spirituality as a tool to foster employee health. Employees and managers alike are seeking out “meaning, personal and professional growth, and even spiritual growth” in their corporate environments⁵.

“We are witnessing a spiritual awakening unprecedented in modern times, according to scholars in American religious thought.”15.

And when it comes to the professions typically associated with mental-health, the trend seems ubiquitous and almost universal. Whether it’s medicine⁶, psychiatry⁷, psychotherapy⁹, counselling¹⁰ or life coaching¹¹, the concept and practices of spirituality are increasingly being recognized as important, if not necessary, aspects of mental health and well-being. The message here seems clear. In spite of the uneasy, sometimes even competitive relationship between religion/spirituality and psychotherapy during the last century — both vying for a means to explain or heal the soul/psyche — the important role of religion/spirituality in mental health and well-being now appears to be accepted wisdom. Establishing the field of transpersonal psychology (also called “spiritual psychology” or the “psychology of spirituality”) at the very forefront of this new integration of science, psychology and spirituality¹⁴.

Happiness & Well-Being

Happiness and well-being research has been going on since around the early 60’s when the humanistic and positive psychology movements helped to shift a focus from merely treating pathology and reducing symptoms of mental-illness, towards fostering the more positive aspects of happiness, well-being and flourishing. Concurrent with the trends investigating the role of spirituality on health and wellness and the increase in the numbers of people who identify as “spiritual but not religious”⁴, the science and psychology behind the concept of well-being has also increased steadily over the past few decades¹⁶. As of 2017, the World Happiness Database — which tracks happiness/well-being research — indicated over 12000 articles to date and the exponential rise in happiness publications continues to this day as can be seen in figure 2 below.

Johnny Stork - Happiness Publications
Figure 2

Well-Being and Public Policy

Along with the growing interest around the science behind and interest in, spirituality, happiness and well-being as they relate to mental-health, there also appears to be evidence of a growing political trend towards the implementation of happiness or well-being factors in setting public policy. In 2008 the small country of Bhutan implemented an economic and social policy index which they titled Gross National Happiness (GNH) — as opposed to Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The GNH index would take into account the overall well-being of its citizens when assessing the country’s welfare. The implementation of the GNH in Bhutan implied that sustainable development is best defined by a more holistic approach where equal importance is given to the happiness and well-being of its citizens as a measure of progress, along with the economic and material-good’s scale of the GDP.

More recently, New Zealand announced that it was moving away from traditional bottom-line factors like economic growth and productivity as measures of the country’s overall health. Instead, New Zealand will place a heavy emphasis on community, cultural connection and equity factors through increased spending on mental-health supports, addressing domestic violence, child poverty and homelessness¹⁸. Apparently in a bid to not to be outdone by New Zealand, the former head of civil services and spending in the UK also announced that “personal well-being rather than economic growth should be the primary aim of government spending”¹⁹.

These announcements from multiple countries have demonstrated that well-being and happiness are increasingly being recognized as important, even critical factors in establishing public policy and determining the overall health of a country and its citizens²⁰. It would appear that happiness and well-being are becoming the new GDP²¹. Once again, establishing the significant role for transpersonal psychology and the application of transpersonal principles, in an ever-widening scope of mental-health, wellness and even political arenas.

Taken as a whole, the steady growth of interest into the science of spirituality, well-being and happiness, along with the increasing number of people who identify as “spiritual but not religious”⁴, the expanding interest into bridging the science and spirituality divide¹⁴ and now the spread of well-being factors to public policy, the demand for and value of, a transpersonal education would appear to be poised for significant growth.

Summary

It was suggested at the start of this article that we appear to be living through a very challenging, potentially existentially threatening, period of history. And that we may be facing global-scale environmental, political, social and moral challenges unlike anything we have experienced in the past as a civilization. Therefore, how we face and address these challenges may determine not only the short-term stability of our planet or the well-being of humankind, but may very well threaten our existence as a species.

The scale of these threats to mankind or the planet may appear to be far beyond the reach of any one person. However, just like a path is created by taking that first step, a house is built by laying that first brick, change on a global scale begins with the transformation of one person who can make a difference — YOU.

So how do we begin to “be the change” in order to change the world for the better? As outlined in the preceding text, we are witnessing growing trends in the psychological science around spirituality, happiness and well-being. We are also witnessing a growing trend in people identifying as “spiritual but not religious”⁴. There is also a growing trend in the spread of well-being factors being applied to public policy, along with a recent renaissance into psychedelic research²⁵ and altered states of consciousness for medical/psychological conditions as well as for personal transformation.

ALL of these trends fall under the umbrella of the growing field of transpersonal psychology which is poised for significant growth in the coming years. A field of psychology which has evolved out of the study of our highest potentials, our capacity to self-actualize and to ultimately self-transcend. A state of mind, a state of being, linked to an awakened awareness of our fundamental interconnectedness and interdependence leading to personal transformations. These personal transformations or “awakening experiences“²³ appear to lead to shifts in perspectives and values, reduced interest in material wealth and increased acts of compassion and altruism²³. The Transpersonal Psychologist, researcher and author Steve Taylor describes the after-effects of these transpersonal “awakening experiences” this way:

Our perceptions of the world around us become more vivid, and we feel a sense of connection to nature, other human beings or the whole universe in general. We feel a sense of love and compassion, and there is a strong sense that we have transcended a limited state, and that awareness has become more authentic than normal. At higher intensities of awakening experiences, we may even feel that we have lost our normal sense of identity and somehow become one with the whole world.27

So there may be hope for us after-all. Not only are spirituality, happiness, well-being and transpersonal psychology in vogue today, but the potential for personal transformations and “awakening experiences“²³ to evoke stronger connections to nature, increased feelings of connection, compassion and altruism towards others, may very well be the exact antidote we need to not only survive our current global challenges, but maybe even to flourish as a species far beyond what any of us can imagine today. Transpersonal psychology may be poised to play a key role in changing the world for the better, one person at a time.


References

1: Weaver, A. J., Pargament, K. I., Flannelly, K. J., & Oppenheimer, J. E. (2006). Trends in the Scientific Study of Religion, Spirituality, and Health: 1965–2000. Journal of Religion and Health, 45(2), 208–214.

2: Lun, V. M.-C., & Bond, M. H. (2013). Examining the relation of religion and spirituality to subjective well-being across national cultures. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 5(4), 304–315.

3 (Fehring, R.J., Miller, J.F. & Shaw, C. (1997). Spiritual well-being, religiosity, hope, depression, and other mood states in elderly people coping with cancer. Oncology Nursing Forum. 24(4). 663–71.

4: Lipka, M & Cecewicz, C. (2017). More Americans now say they’re spiritual but not religiousPew Research Center.

5: Tischler, L. (1999).The growing interest in spirituality in business: A long-term socio-economic explanation. Journal of Organizational Change Management. 12(4). 273–280.

6: Roberti, d.S. (2007). The Social Demand for a Medicine Focused on the Person: The Contribution of CAM to Healthcare and Healthgenesis. eCAM. 4(s1). 45–51.

7: Baetz, M., Griffin, R., Bowen, R., & Marcoux, G. (2004). Spirituality and Psychiatry in Canada: Psychiatric Practice Compared with Patient Expectations. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 49(4), 265–271.

8: Tadmor, N. (2019). Towards a Transpersonal PsychiatryAlef Trust Blog.

9: Post, B.C. & Wafe, N.G. (2009). Religion and spirituality in psychotherapy: a practice-friendly review of research. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 65. 131–146.

10: Plumb, A. M. (2011). Spirituality and Counselling: Are Counsellors Prepared to Integrate Religion and Spirituality into Therapeutic Work with Clients?. Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy, 45(1).

11: (Williams, 2012). Lost this reference.

12: Stork, J. (2018). The Evolution of Coaching PsychologyAlef Trust Blog.

13: Dangeli, J. (n.d.). Transpersonal Coaching ModelAuthentic Self Empowerment.

14: Taylor, S. (2019). What is Panspiritism? Philosophy Now. Retrieved from

15: Taylor, E. (1994). Desperately Seeking Spirituality. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/articles/199411/desperately-seeking-spirituality

16: Diener, E., Suh, E., Lucas, R. E. & Smith, H. L. (1999). Psychological Bulletin. 125(2). 276–302.

17: Cloninger, 2006. The science of well-being: an integrated approach to mental health and its disorders. World Psychiatry. 5(2). 71–6.

18: Young-Powell, A. (2019, May 31). New Zealand unveils new ‘wellbeing budget’ with a focus on mental health over economic growthIndependant.

19: Partington, R. (2019, May 24). Wellbeing should replace growth as ‘main aim of UK spending’. The Guardian. Retrieved from

20: Alkire, S. (2008). Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index : methodology and results. Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative (OPHI).

21: Stratton, A. (2010). David Cameron aims to make happiness the new GDPThe Guardian.

22: Cook, G. (2018, May 2018). The Science of Altering Consciousness. Scientific American.

23: Taylor, S. (2018, Feb. 23). The After-Effects of AwakeningPsychology Today.

24: Taylor, S. (2017). Exploring Awakening Experiences: A Study of Awakening Experiences in Terms of Their Triggers, Characteristics, Duration and After-Effects. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology. 49(1). 45–65.

A Jolly Mystic Dude with a background (or interests) in psychology, consciousness, well-being, spirituality, psychedelics, philosophy, sexuality, contemplative practices and technology. In a few past lives or careers I have been a youth-care worker and program developer; statistician; research analyst; database developer; web developer; WordPress developer; Linux administrator and open-source consultant; network/website security administrator; infrastructure manager, social-media and marketing analyst; male waiter on Ladies Nights and a pourer of molten steel.I currently hang out in Gibson’s BC pursuing interests in, and writing about, transpersonal psychology, spirituality, psychedelics, plant wellness, positive technology and well-being. I am a strong advocate for the therapeutic use of psychedelics and cannabis in treating many emotional and psychological conditions as well as for the fostering of well-being and supporting spiritual practice. I also have a passionate interest in the role of technologies like social-media to be used constructively and positively for sharing information, knowledge, building communities and fostering well-being. When I am not reading, studying, writing, blogging, listening to music or contemplating my navel, I like to ride my motorcycle, take photos, go hiking, 4x4ing, meditate on the beach, camping, kayaking or anything else outdoors. I also like challenging social, sexual, gender and intellectual stereotypes as well exploring the furthest reaches of human consciousness.

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