In the focus groups and interviews, people of all spiritual and religious self-identifications shared examples of experiences they described as spiritual.
Some shared singular moments from many years ago that uniquely moved them, while others offered examples of daily encounters with the divine, with others, or with the natural world.
People described these experiences as “deeply moving,” or as “something I couldn’t explain.” They shared examples that “lifted me out of myself,” that “made me feel a sense of wonder,” or “made me feel a sense of belonging.” Themes included senses of awe, belonging, clarity, connection, discomfort, love, peace, mystery, presence, scale, self, significance, and transformation.
Spiritual experiences like the ones that follow have been shown to fuel people’s faith, propel them to act in the world in loving ways, and influence how people give of themselves to others.
Half of respondents expressed frequently feeling the presence of a higher power or divine being.
Over half of people who reported strong belief feel such a presence at least every day. Some of those who do not believe in a higher power, or doubt, still report having this experience at least once in a while.
In conversation, people recalled specific, powerful moments of sensing the divine that made a lasting impression, as well as regular, fleeting feelings of warmth or peace.
“When I was in high school, I overdosed. [...] It was very, very intense. It felt like there was like a parent in there with me in the room, helping me through it, [but] I was alone. ... It was probably the closest thing I would describe to spirituality.”
Very spiritual / Very religious (Catholic)
Half of respondents say they frequently feel divine love for them—directly or through others.
At least one in ten who don’t believe in a higher power—and at least one in four who don’t know whether a higher power exists—still feel divine love at least once in a while.
Focus group participants frequently described experiencing that love during moments of life and death, such as the birth of their child or a death of a relative.
“I was holding [my ten-year-old niece] when she passed. It was the light on her face and the light through the window and I just deeply felt her spirit leave her body. [Her illness] was a deeply spiritual process as there were so many people affected in praying and coming together to try to support. … That connection that was felt amongst all of us was just palpable love.”
Very spiritual / Moderately religious (Episcopalian)
Two in three people frequently feel touched by the beauty of creation.
In focus groups, people of all spiritual and religious identifications, and even those who said they were not spiritual, described specific experiences—recently or long ago—of peace, awe, mystery, or wonder in the natural world.
“Every time I see a certain animal, like a butterfly, that’s a really small spiritual experience. Because to me, they’re just so interesting how they have short lives, but their whole lives are spent with a purpose for making sure their species stays alive.”
Moderately spiritual / Not religious at all
Three in four people frequently feel thankful for their blessings.
People in focus groups described both moments of gratitude and regular practices of gratitude. Some described how the experience of receiving unearned blessings compelled them to shift their own lives or pass it along to others.
“[I don’t pray] very often. What I usually try and do is really talk about all the things I’m grateful for. … My life has been kind of crazy but in general I still think I’m a really lucky person.”
Slightly spiritual / Not religious at all (Agnostic)