this article original posted on DailyHap, here.
There are many studies that show attending religious services can lead to longer, happier lives.[i] The funny thing is, our most revered religious figures don’t promise happiness. Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword,”[ii] and Buddha’s second noble truth essentially says that happiness inevitably leads to sadness because it never sticks around. Even modern spiritual teachers like Adyashanti say, “Enlightenment is a destructive process. It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier.”[iii]
So how can religion make us happier when it doesn’t have to do with happiness?
I propose that there are two main reasons, alongside the variety of minor reasons suggested by researchers in the field of happiness and religion. The first is that spirituality is a human need, just like eating, and ignoring this need causes suffering. The second reason is that true joy comes from deep inner peace, not happiness based on outer conditions (such as wealth and romance).
Let’s take a look at the first reason today, and come back to the second in a later article.
Our Spiritual Needs
In high school, I remember Christian Young Life leaders preaching about a hole in our heart. They said that we teens would try to fill the hole with drugs, sex, and sports, but that only God could truly fill it. We were trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Although I don’t accept the idea that Young Life’s Jesus Christ is the only round peg to fit that round hole, I actually agree with the general idea. And science might be on my side.
Just under thirty years ago, a 40-year-old Harvard University professor named Howard Gardner proposed a theory that human beings have at least eight different lines of intelligence. Instead of just one IQ, each one develops and can be measured independently. A few years later, psychologists released studies indicating the existence of another intelligence: Emotional Intelligence. Some, such as Daniel Goleman, convincingly argue that our emotional development—our EQ— is a far better predictor of success than IQ.[iv]
What other types of intelligence might predict success, good relationships, and happiness? If trying to grow your EQ by learning multiplication is like trying to fit a triangular peg into a square hole, what other ingredients are we missing in our search for happy lives?
A child develops the ability to crawl, then walk, then run, and maybe, if they train hard enough, the ability to dunk or run a four-minute mile. In the same way, a person can grow and develop their spiritual intelligence. There are many ways we learn to run, but all humans, regardless of time and place, go through the basic abilities in the same basic order. Similarly it doesn’t matter whether you’re Jewish, Ba’hai, Scientologist, or Mormon, the stages of spiritual intelligence are universal and cross-cultural.[v]
Cindy Wigglesworth, who coaches high-powered executives to develop their SQ (Spiritual Quotient), defines Spiritual Intelligence as “the ability to behave with Compassion and Wisdom while maintaining inner and outer peace (equanimity) regardless of the circumstances.”[vi]
So what? I thought we talking about Happiness here.
You wouldn’t be very happy if you never nurtured your ability to walk, or run, would you? You’d be incredibly limited. You’d be doing a lot of hard work to get around instead of simply using your legs. Seeing others walking around might make you a little jealous.
If you’re not nurturing your spiritual intelligence, you’re limiting yourself in the same way. You’re like a fully grown adult, crawling around on the floor.
What Can I Do?
Simple but hard: train. Just like dunking the basketball or running that four-minute mile, you need to get a spiritual practice, and stick with it. Prayer, meditation, reading a sacred text; pick one and stick with it. Make it something that will stretch you, and measure your progress.
Example 1: 100 Day Meditation Challenge
Can you meditate for 10 minutes a day, everyday for 100 days without exception?
Example 2: Read a Spiritual Text all the way through
The Bible, the Tao te Ching, the Bhagavad Gita, the Quran. Pick one you’ve always wanted to read but never finished. Finish it. Apply what you learn in your daily life.
Example 3: Get Rid of Stuff
Promise yourself you’ll get rid of 90% of EVERYTHING in your closet. Wow, there are a lot of attachments. Each time you don’t want to get rid of something, ask, “What do I really care about? What’s really important in my life? Does this object have anything to do with that?”
Before you start these big challenges, write down everything that annoys you. Write your fears, and your biggest stressors. After successfully completing the challenge, do it again. Review both. What’s changed?
These things will give you more than just a little happiness boost. They’ll increase your overall outlook on life itself, filling a hole you might not have even known was there. They might even lead to a deeper sense of peace … another key to real happiness.
What other things might help you grow spiritually? How else can you develop your SQ? Comment to share your practices with other Hapsters, and to egg each other on.
[ii] Matthew, 10:34, KJV. See also Luke 12:51