Informing and Inspiring the Type of Person We Want To Be
The findings of this study reveal that spirituality is a source of aspiration for many in the U.S. That is, for many persons, spirituality motivates and directs who they are becoming. Spirituality informs ideals and fuels behaviors, indicating that it may be an under-tapped resource for personal and social transformation.
The health and racism pandemics of 2020 have spurred social and personal upheaval, prompting many people to evaluate their aspirational convictions, and even question traditional sources of meaning, values, and beliefs. The civic and religious structures within the U.S. have been radically shifting. These traditionally reliable sources of trust, belonging, and ideals have been eroding, forcing Americans to find meaning and purpose on their own, with little or no institutional guidance.
More than half of the study participants reported a desire to become more spiritual. Not only is spirituality linked to inspiration and growth, but it is also a resource for direction and guidance. Through spirituality people potentially have access to prosocial ideals and beliefs, a community to support them, and a source of transcendence that motivates behaviors aligned with their spiritual ideals. From a psychological perspective, when people cognitively and emotionally transcend themselves, other-oriented beliefs and goals are integrated into their identities that become the basis for moral and civic identity and result in the formation of noble purpose.
Ideological commitments and purpose further guide, direct, and organize identity, worldviews, social relationships, goals, and behaviors towards other-oriented ends. Spirituality and religion tend to provide explicit and clear sets of prosocial ideals; offer historic or living examples and social support; and profound experiences of belonging, love, grace, and significance—in a way that motivates people to sustain their commitment to moral and civic ends. In this way, spirituality is aspirational and serves to motivate and fuel people towards pursuing lives that matter now, and in most cases, in the future. Because of the significance of spiritual beliefs and goals, people exhibit a high level of fidelity and are motivated to live in alignment to their ideals and grow in virtuous and civic engagement. The experience of connection, awareness, and integration enable spirituality at its best to be an invitation to a life beyond the immediate and mundane and to what could be—rather than what should be. In this way, self-transcendent experiences, prosocial beliefs, and engaged community inspires and supports one’s journey to construct a thriving life of transcendent meaning, purpose, and engagement.
This Expert Insight is from Pamela Ebstyne King, Ph.D., Peter L. Benson Chair of Applied Developmental Science Thrive Center for Human Development, School of Psychology, Fuller Theological Seminary