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Study links daily spiritual practices to improved well-being and mental health – Baptist News Global

A national study conducted by sending text messages to smartphone users demonstrates that consistent spiritual practices can serve as a buffer against depression and boost overall well-being, social scientists say.

Matt Bradshaw

“This study is unique because it examines daily spiritual experiences — such as feeling God’s presence, finding strength in religion or spirituality, and feeling inner peace and harmony — as both stable traits and as states that fluctuate,” said study co-author and Baylor University sociologist Matt Bradshaw.

The study, published in The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, employs a process developed by SoulPlus, a John Templeton Foundation project on religion, spirituality and wellbeing.

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Due to the prevalence of smartphones, researchers were able to send digital prompts to participants over a 14-day period and track their moods, spiritual attitudes and responses to basic questions not just in one survey but in a series of surveys that painted a more complex picture of their lives.

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Texting survey questions to smartphone users was key in providing confidence about the findings, according to Blake Victor Kent, assistant professor of sociology at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Nearly 2,800 individuals were surveyed from 2013 to 2016, each receiving two texts a day for two weeks, said Kent, also a research associate at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, and a graduate student at Baylor when the study was conducted.

Participants were asked to respond to theistic questions and statements such as, “I feel God’s presence,” “I feel closer to God” and “I find strength and comfort in my religion or spirituality.” Non-theistic topics included, “I feel a deep inner peace or harmony,” “I feel thankful for my blessings” and “I am spiritually touched by the beautify of creation.”

Up to 15 questions — from a pool of 100 — were asked in each of the two daily sessions.

The goal was to ensure that temporary conditions, such as the death of a loved one, were not recorded as permanent depressive states. By asking recurring or similar questions over 14 days, researchers were able to discern between temporary feelings and fixed traits. Kent said that is more difficult to determine with survey data collected in just one or two sessions.

“The primary advantage of this approach is it allows us to challenge the assumption that what we are measuring at one point in time is a stable view of that person.”

“The primary advantage of this approach is it allows us to challenge the assumption that what we are measuring at one point in time is a stable view of that person.”

Having a firmer grasp of what’s fleeting and what’s stable in participants’ emotional and spiritual lives makes for a much more solid understanding of how spirituality impacts depression and other mood states, he said. “People who have more daily spiritual experiences than others had lower levels of depressive symptoms and higher levels of flourishing.”

Blake Victor Kent

The survey could be of potential use in a number of fields, including health care, he said. “Religion and spirituality are increasingly recognized by health professionals as effective in helping people cope with stressors. They can’t prescribe religion or spirituality, but it is perfectly feasible and ethical to ask people if they have any religious beliefs or grounding that they can turn to as a way of seeking healing and health.”

Clergy and chaplains also could use the information in the survey, and some churches already have used it as a discipleship tool, Kent reported. “It’s relevant to anyone in pastoral care ministry because it asks people to think through the positives and negatives of their day-to-day lives.”

The participants themselves said they benefitted from the two-week process, he said. “We had people tell us going through the study actually cultivated awareness of God’s presence around them, or that this feels like a spiritual discipline.”

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