Academic journal article International Journal of Psychology Research

Enhancing Spirituality and Positive Well-Being through Nature

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychology Research

Enhancing Spirituality and Positive Well-Being through Nature

Article excerpt

The major focus of research in psychology, medicine, psychiatry and neuroscience has been on the diagnoses and treatment of illness and dysfunction. This focus has been fruitful, as science has contributed to major advances in identifying and treating physical and mental challenges. Unfortunately, this focus has led to a relative neglect of the dimensions of the human condition that promote human flourishing. These dimensions include happiness and life satisfaction, as well as spirituality and religiousness.

The study of human flourishing has gained attention over the past two decades within the newly named field of positive psychology. However, the philosophical and scientific origins of positive psychology, including the study of spirituality, can be seen much earlier in the work of William James. James is considered by many to be the founder of the psychology of religion and he made important contributions to the debate over spiritual identity. James believed that an individual's identity was comprised of three aspects of the self: the material self, the social self, and the spiritual self (Schultz and Schultz, 2008). He considered the spiritual self to be the core of the person and to be much more developed than the material self and the social self (Poll and Smith, 2003).

History of Spirituality in Psychology

To support his perspective on the fundamental nature of the spiritual self, James cited examples of spiritual conversion that stemmed from adverse conditions (James, 1902/2002). For instance, he described examples of illness and injury that motivated individuals to trust in a greater power, which led to an alleviation of their suffering. He also recognized links between nature and spirituality and cited examples of nature contributing to spiritual transformations. For instance, he described the story of a man who on viewing a great vista of natural and rugged beauty felt he lost his own identity and connected with a power larger than himself. James wrote about moments "when the goodness and beauty of existence enfold us like a dry, warm climate" (p. 269) and how these experiences of profound beauty could lead to spiritual transformations.

James was criticized for his non-traditional view of religion. According to James, religion is "the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine" (James, 1902/2002, p. 38). Additionally, he was criticized for his lack of empirical rigor when investigating and reporting on the psychology of religion (Crooks, 1913). These criticisms fuelled controversy and promoted a more expansive investigation into the psychology of religion.

As a demonstration of his insightfulness, James did foresee the results of present day research showing that happiness and religious experiences are associated (Lewis and Cruise, 2006). James believed that happiness is a product of being engaged with one's life and therefore suggested singing, dancing, drinking, and sexual excitement were all closely linked with worship. Ultimately, the more an individual behaves as if their life has ultimate meaning, the more meaningful their life will become.

Although James recognized that human strengths and virtues were important topics that warranted study, his views were rejected in the early 1920s by Gordon Allport, another pioneering American psychologist. Allport examined how different people use religion, and how religion fits into the social fabric of America. For example, he studied the high rates of prejudice amongst churchgoers to identify the theological, sociocultural and individual psychological constructs that supported this trend (1966). He also challenged Freud's ideas about religion expressed in The Future of an Illusion (1927) and postulated that Christian ideals motivate and strengthen individuals, and that people are inherently religious (1954). Allport adopted the position that positive character and its development were not valuable research topics for psychologists (Peterson and Seligman, 2004). …

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