The Science Of Spirituality: 7 Studies That Prove Being In Tune With Yourself Changes Your Life


To be spiritual is to value your mental and emotional experience more than you do your physical one. Though may conjure images of crystals and incense and slow, velvet-sounding talk of world peace, there is a ton of research that backs up the practical importance of spiritual practice. Here, a few illuminating studies that prove your deep-breathing-connection-loving-positive-thinking hippie dippie friends may be onto something after all:

1. Meditation physically changes the brain.

Harvard studies concluded that practicing meditation increases the density of grey matter in your brain – the cell bodies that govern muscle control and sensory perception such as seeing, hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision-making, self-control, etc. These changes affect your memory, sense of self, ability to empathize, and cope with stress, among other things.

2. Positive thinking has been shown to increase opportunities in life.

Barbara Frederickson’s benchmark research on positive psychology found that consciously choosing to focus on the positive and therefore, inducing positive emotions each day not only improved quality of life, but external opportunities as well. She argues that positive psychology is actually a mind-training practicing that aims to intervene on the “hedonic treadmill effect,” which the idea that we return to a “baseline” happiness despite major positive or negative life changes. Essentially: you can re-write your inner “shift” and change your overall emotional experience for the better.

3. Being outside in nature changes the way you think.

Studies show that people who are outside more often (or who do not live in heavily populated cities) have lower levels of stress hormones and less activity in their subgenual prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that governs abnormalities in mood disorders. This is because people who are outside more often think differently – they have less external stimuli to remind them of something to brood over.

4. Deep breathing affects the heart, brain, digestion, immunity, and possibly even the expression of genes.

While it would make sense that deep breathing is your body’s built-in stress-reliever it also creates far more physical change than just a sense of calmness. Deep breathing is associated with improvement in heart function, digestion, the immune system, and even gene expression. Though the research is new, the practice isn’t: the yogi term for deep breathing, pranayama, means to control the life force and affect the body and mind.

5. Happiness is a collective phenomena: our emotional states are driven and created by those whose energies we are “open” to.

It’s easy to recognize how happy and unhappy people cluster together – whether socially or culturally. But longitudinal statistics suggest that these “groupings” are actually the result of the way happiness “spreads” between those we are open to having an emotional connection with. When we are receptive to other people’s energy (if you will) it changes our own. Research has shown this as the effects of connectivity creating happiness fades with time and separation, and does not apply between co-workers (to whom you do not have a personal connection).

6. Emotional intelligence is the key to personal and professional success.

Working on your emotional intelligence is the route to the success you desire – even when it doesn’t seem as though ‘emotion’ has anything to do with it. Being emotionally intelligent is to be able to perceive, use, understand and manage emotions, and both makes you receptive enough to respond to others (making you more aware of interpersonal relationships both at home and in the workplace).

7. Materialism has a direct link to low self-esteem; minimalism and simple living are associated with increased mental and physical well-being.

Spiritual practice traditionally rejects materialism in favor of something more ‘real,’ and science backs up the idea that physical items are in fact emotional buffers for dealing with a lack of self-esteem. People who live simply and minimally report an overall better quality of life as they are focused on what is truly important to them, and people who value money and possessions over other things are significantly more depressed.