General Question

mattbrowne's avatar

Time-tested guidelines for ethical living - Are spiritual people more healthy?

Asked by mattbrowne (31588points) June 5th, 2009

Research has demonstrated the many mental and physical health benefits of regular meditative practices. Research also supports the health benefits of prayer (which can also be seen as a special form of meditation). Religious and spiritual traditions encourage prayer but they differ in style and technique. Prayer has been found to result in a many health benefits including improved psychological functioning, a sense of well-being and meaning, and better stress reduction and coping.

Spirituality and religion offer an opportunity to secure and develop meaning, purpose, calling, and vocation in life. All of the religious traditions provide some answers to questions about what someone should do with their life with particular strategies for finding more meaning and purpose.

Religious and spiritual traditions provide advice about the benefits of accepting ourselves and others. Much of psychotherapy focuses on helping people accept what they cannot change and change what they can to improve the quality of their lives. The well known “serenity prayer” well articulates what traditional and secular psychotherapy both try to accomplish stating: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

The religious and spiritual wisdom traditions provide time-tested guidelines for ethical living. Living more ethically, with or without religious involvement, is likely to have psychotherapeutic benefits. The ethical principles for psychologists include most of the same ethical guidelines offered by the religious and spiritual traditions. These include respect, responsibility, integrity, competence, and concern for others. Both professional ethics codes and religious and spiritual traditions encourages people to be concerned about the welfare of others, to be honest and maintain integrity, to be respectful to everyone and to life, and so forth.

Religion and spirituality often contributes to a sense of being part of something larger than ourselves. Religion offers a way to put life in perspective and speaks to issues that occurred long before us and long after our passing. Furthermore, feeling part of something bigger than ourselves can help us better cope with the many challenges in life.

Religion and spirituality, at its best, encourages people to be forgiving, grateful, loving, kind, and compassionate. For example, research has demonstrated positive benefits of forgiveness. Forgiveness is an antidote to anger, hostility, and bitterness. Research indicates that those who tend to be grateful sleep better, are more optimistic, more energetic, and maintain better interpersonal relationships. Finally, all of the major religious traditions encourage love, kindness, and compassion, which also has mental and physical health benefits. Treating others as you wish to be treated, often referred to as the “golden rule,” is found and emphasized in all of the major religious traditions. Research indicates that volunteer activities results in mental and physical health benefits and reduces mortality risks as much as 40%. Religion provides an organizational structure to support productive community engagement that usually emphasize helping those in greatest need such as the poor and marginalized. Additionally, volunteerism can provide the volunteer with an enhanced sense of meaning, purpose, and calling which can help keep their own troubles in better perspective.

Religious and spiritual models provide followers with exemplars to imitate. The popular question, “What would Jesus Do?” is an excellent example. Religious models such as Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammad, as well as more contemporary models such as Gandhi, Mother Teresa, the Dali Lama, Martin Luther King, and even family and friends can be a template for better living. Research has indicated that observational learning is a powerful way to learn new skills and behaviors. Having role models can be a useful way to help motivate and inspire others to “go and do likewise”.

The religious and spiritual traditions emphasize the belief that life is sacred and that the divine or something sacred lives within us all. This understanding that we are all important, sacred, a “child of God” has implications for how we think about ourselves and interact with everyone. The faith communities and traditions instruct that if we are all sacred, then everyone should be treated with great respect, kindness, love, and compassion.


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23 Answers

DarkScribe's avatar

A hospital survey published here (Australia) a year or so ago, claimed surprisingly that both the extent and the recovery rate of devout people was far less that that of atheists. That even surprised me. Several possible reasons were mooted, but basically it seems that if you trust in God, you don’t try as hard in other directions.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I agree that those results have been reported but I want to know the reverse as well – how much psychological trauma has been wrought on people because of their fears, their anxieties, theirp pressures surrounding religion

I also believe that for some what you mention will happen because they just leave all concerns, bad and good luck to ‘well that’s just how god works’ and they don’t delive deeper into their issues or into other perspectives. I remember talking about this on where I asked questions about whether or not religion stumps people’s developments in many ways because it gives them these supposed answers but they’re just fluff, imo. Basically what is described with prayer is placebo effect, if you think it’s working, obviously you’ll be calmer, etc. And that’s good, sure, but I don’t want people to read these results as if they have to have a religion without knowing how many people have been literally liberated once they gave up on the ones imposed on them in childhood and as a public health professional, I understand how much good we can do with connecting healthy living to spirituality and we utilize churches in many initiatives but it’s just an angle, not an inevitability…I also remember reading that the less religious a country, the happier the population, maybe someone can pull those studies for me, as I’m rushing to write this at work.

fireside's avatar

Some thoughts from a Baha’i perspective:
When we speak of the soul we mean the motive power of this physical body which lives under its entire control in accordance with its dictates. If the soul identifies itself with the material world it remains dark, for in the natural world there is corruption, aggression, struggles for existence, greed, darkness, transgression and vice. If the soul remains in this station and moves along these paths it will be the recipient of this darkness; but if it becomes the recipient of the graces of the world of mind, its darkness will be transformed into light, its tyranny into justice, its ignorance into wisdom, its aggression into loving kindness; until it reach the apex. Then there will not remain any struggle for existence. Man will become free from egotism; he will be released from the material world; he will become the personification of justice and virtue, for a sanctified soul illumines humanity and is an honor to mankind, conferring life upon the children of men and suffering all nations to attain to the station of perfect unity. Therefore, we can apply the name “holy soul” to such a one.

There is, however, a faculty in man which unfolds to his vision the secrets of existence. It gives him a power whereby he may investigate the reality of every object. It leads man on and on to the luminous station of divine sublimity and frees him from all the fetters of self, causing him to ascend to the pure heaven of sanctity. This is the power of the mind, for the soul is not, of itself, capable of unrolling the mysteries of phenomena; but the mind can accomplish this and therefore it is a power superior to the soul.
(Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 120)

968. Doctors Versed in Medical Science Can Treat Case Better Than Loving Mothers
”...He fully sympathizes with you in this great sorrow that has afflicted you. At such occasions, the true servants of God should be reigned and try to act wisely, using at the same time all available means to help their loved one who is in distress and is suffering from illness.

“Bahá‘u’lláh tells us that in case of disease we should pray but at the same time refer to competent physicians, and abide by their considered decisions. Shoghi Effendi wishes you therefore to find whether your son has really become ill, and if he is, then follow the directions of the doctor. Being versed in the medical sciences they can treat better than even a loving mother can. You can render your assistance by praying for him and at the same time helping the physicians to treat him.”

(From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer, April 9, 1933: Selections from Bahá’í Writings on Some Aspects of Health and Healing, pp. 5–6)
(Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 286)

mattbrowne's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir – Well, only a certain part of prayer can be interpreted as a result of the placebo effect, basically the wish for some irrational magical thing to happen like when people swallow a pill (which only contains sugar) and their blood pressure is reduced. But there’s an other part of prayer as well. Let’s take the serenity prayer as an example:

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

Now this is about the praying person. He or she can try to understand the world and what’s happening. He or she can accept certain things but also decide to change certain things. For example to exercise three times a week. Doing this is not a placebo. It’s real. The thought processes are also real.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@mattbrowne oh, of course, but believe you me it doesn’t take god or prayer to start an exersize routine – in that the latter is not required

CMaz's avatar

Weather you look at it as good health practices, meditation or spiritual intervention. It is the positive attitude that brings you to nirvana.
Even the placebo that you ingest will “work” more effectively if you believe it will. And, if you motivate yourself to swallow it.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir – Prayer is one option for some people. Meditation is very similar. And there are other ways of engaging in introspection.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@MattBrowne that’s more broad
and you’d have to get more and more broad on this topic
soon enough it’ll just be taking deep breaths alone will help you be healthier – therefore unless you have a very broad definition of spirituality, it all collapses onto itself

mattbrowne's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir – Taking deep breaths might be healthy, but it’s not enough.

CMaz's avatar

True, but it is a good (positive) start. Without a deep breath the only thing that will happen is suffocation.

mattbrowne's avatar

@ChazMaz – Absolutely. Good conscious breathing is very beneficial. Then for some it’s time to move to the next level.

CMaz's avatar

Yep, all about connecting the dots in the right order.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@mattbrowne but for some people it’s been enough
you should read some of the websites about deep breathing techniques
they say it does wonders, restructures your entire being, etc.

fireside's avatar

Deep breathing techniques are actually quite similar to prayer and meditation techniques.

mattbrowne's avatar

It wasn’t my intention to depreciate deep breathing techniques. Actually during my rookie years in the corporate world almost 20 years ago, someone recommended attending a course to better cope with stress. Which I did. Something like 20 lessons or so. It’s a wonderful tool and it allows us to explore the spiritual world further. But there is after all more to spirituality than conscious breathing like contemplating questions about what someone should do with one’s life with particular strategies for finding more meaning and purpose. Of course this can be done during conscious breathing.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

oh my god, I wasn’t offended – lol – just saying it’s all the same, spirituality doesn’t have to be so exhalted

fireside's avatar

Spirituality contains aspects of: faith, knowledge, certitude, justice, piety, righteousness, trustworthiness, love of God (or higher power), benevolence, purity, detachment, humility, meekness, patience and constancy. These can be improved through prayer, meditation and deep breathing but only if the mind turns in that direction.

Many people can use deep breathing exercises as a temporary solution to a specific issue without taking the time and effort to make the grater change that is needed in their life. This can also be the same with prayer; many people just rattle off the words without taking them into their being as transformational lessons.

The main difference between spirituality and religion is that spirituality is about the individual and religion contains cultural elements for how to manage societal issues like marriage, family, common goals, etc.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir – Glad to hear it! I thought maybe you had a bad experience while traveling through the Bajoran wormhole and needed to take a deep breath ;-)

@fireside – Yes, but then conscious breathing is a tool helping us to dealing with questions of faith, knowledge, certitude, justice, piety, righteousness, trustworthiness, higher powers, benevolence, purity, detachment, humility, meekness, patience, constancy, and so forth, right?

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir ugh i wish
still at the work desk

fireside's avatar

Yes, conscious breathing can help to calm the mind and allow space for those attributes. I don’t think it alone is enough to really reprogram the brain, but it can certainly create a more serene personality. It’s the practice of mindfulness that gives us peace and shows us the benefits of those virtues.

YARNLADY's avatar

The non-religious version: I strive for the courage to change what I can; the serenity to accept what I cannot change; and the wisdom to know the difference.

Non-religious people who recognize the importance of living in the most civilized manner we can, with emphasis on accepting responsibility for our own choices often exhibit the same longevity you have discussed. For ideas, tips and support, there are several groups such as the Ethical Society and the Freedom From Religion Foundation

mattbrowne's avatar

@YARNLADY – Yes, the serenity approach works with or without believing in God.

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