Book: Spirituality and Wellbeing
Chapter: 1. Spirituality and Wellbeing: Is there a Necessary Link? Toward a Critical Approach to the Study of Spirituality
Spirituality has been defined in many ways, including meaning in life, inner peace and harmony, feelings of hopefulness, or having transcendent experiences. Such definitions are so broad that it is sometimes difficult to specify what exactly spirituality is. Furthermore, definitions based on wellbeing concepts tend to tautological results, especially when measures of spirituality and mental health are correlated since spirituality is conceived as inherently beneficial. In this chapter, I propose to define spirituality mainly in terms of individual religiousness and a secularized search for transcendence, independently of wellbeing and mental health. I present data from a Brazilian survey indicating that people who define themselves as “spiritual, but not religious” are similar to religious participants in their perspectives on spirituality, despite presenting low church/ritual attendance when compared to religious believers. Self-proclaimed atheists consider themselves significantly more as non-spiritual and understand life as meaningless. However, they usually report fewer psychopathological symptoms. These findings suggest that spirituality is not necessarily a matter of wellbeing, and its relationship with mental health may be more complex than measured by some spirituality scales. Spirituality may sometimes involve therapeutic benefits, but challenges and difficulties also constitute an essential part of the spiritual growth process. Spiritual growth would be better defined in terms of the Jungian concept of individuation.