While fewer Americans are identifying with any religious group than in years past, the overwhelming majority still ascribe to some religious or spiritual belief system.
More than three-quarters of Americans identify with some religious denomination, according to Pew Research Center. Even those who are unaffiliated with any religion still insist faith is important in their lives.
Although the number of people identifying with various religious denominations can vary according to social trends and generational shifts, a new study presented at the the 110th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA) finds that many people can experience fluctuations in spiritual awareness over the course of a day.
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This doesn't mean belief waivers depending on the time, of course. Rather, the sense of spiritual connectedness can fluctuate based on time of day and activity.
University of Connecticut researchers surveyed a total of 2,439 people every day for two weeks. Participants provided the study's authors with data in real time by using their smartphones to respond to between 15 and 25 randomly selected questions out of a batch of 120 total. Spiritual awareness, for the purposes of this survey, is defined as feeling connected to God, a higher power or some greater calling.
The researchers found that people felt the most spiritually connected in the morning. As might be expected, activities that resulted in higher levels of spiritual awareness included praying, worshiping and meditation. Study participants also reported higher levels of spirituality while listening to music, reading or exercising.
So what activities led people to report lower levels of spiritual awareness? Perhaps unsurprisingly, work was listed as lowering spiritual awareness. The more someone worked, the less spiritually aware they reported feeling.
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Playing video games was also correlated with a lower sense of spiritual awareness. And while those who kept on the news had higher spiritual awareness overall than those who didn't, the act of watching the news led to a decline in spirituality across the board.
Whatever an individual's religious or spiritual inclinations, previous studies have found that religion and spirituality can have implications for health and well-being.
Research published last year in the journal Psychology of Religion and Spirituality found distinctive effects of religious versus spiritual practice. Religiosity, which is often linked with specific prescriptions on lifestyle and behavior, is associated with healthier habits, such as avoiding smoking or excessive alcohol consumption.
High levels of spirituality, which is more tied to mindfulness and emotional regulation, can induce physiological effects, such as reducing blood pressure.
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Similarly, a 2014 study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that spiritual or religious practice can help guard against depression. Researchers from Columbia University took brain scans over 100 adults, and found that those who reported high levels of spirituality showed thicker portions of brain cortices, which could make them more resilient against depression.
In fact, previous research by the study's authors found that adults coming from families with a history of depression had a 90 percent reduced risk of the disease if they placed high important on religious or spiritual devotion.
Taken together, the studies should provide ample motivation for anyone looking to get in touch with their spiritual side and a timeline of when to go about it.