Do you consider yourself a religious or spiritual person? Sure, you probably feel pretty spiritual when you’re attending some type of service or meditating or walking or doing whatever spirituality-related activities that you do. But what about when you’re doing dishes? Or looking through cute baby red panda listicles? Or at work?
Even if you do fancy yourself a spiritual soul, you probably aren’t thinking about a higher power all the live long day.
According to a preliminary study presented at the American Sociological Association’s 110th Annual Meeting this week, people who consider themselves spiritually aware find that their awareness fluctuates throughout the day—and certain activities draw out that feeling more than others.
In the study, conducted by Hamilton College and the University of Connecticut, researchers used data collected from November of 2013 to May 2015 through SoulPulse, the brainchild of John Ortberg, an evangelical Christian pastor in California and author of books like If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat and All the Places to Go: How Will You Know?
SoulPulse is a spiritual service used as an ongoing study to inform both participants and researchers. Participants who sign up for SoulPulse receive notifications on their smartphones prompting them to answer questions regarding their spirituality—users are asked to rate their awareness of God on a scale from 0 to 100, as well as what activities they’re doing and who they’re with—as soon as possible, twice a day, for two weeks.
At the end of the two weeks, the users get a little report of what their spirituality looks like at certain times of the day and during certain activities. And on the other end of the service, researchers get that same context-based illustration of relatively random people's spirituality.
Among the biggest findings of the 47,964 God-awareness responses: those who engaged in spiritual activities—whether praying, meditating, or doing something that required being in a spiritual mindset—were more likely to have God awareness throughout the day, which seems obvious.
But while certain activities are linked to increased awareness—including listening to music, doing household chores, and preparing food (who knew?)—others have a very weak association with God awareness. Namely, work.
People are generally the least spiritual when they are at work, according to the study.
This means that people who spend a lot of time working don’t spend as much time having transcendent experiences. Also notable, those who spend a fair amount of time on the computer, whether it’s for work or for leisure, have less general God awareness.
“When you look at the averages across activities, technology does appear to be associated with a lower chance of having these experiences,” Jaime Kucinskas, assistant professor of sociology at Hamilton College and lead author of the study, told me.
According to the researchers, spiritual awareness may come down to being in the right mood. “If you look at the early morning, when people aren’t working, that’s when people are most likely to have these experiences, “ Kucinskas said. “We can speculate that maybe there is something about needing the mental space in order to have these experiences.”
But of course, the study has its limitations, the first of which is its scope. Naturally, given the opt-in nature of SoulPulse, their population sample doesn’t reflect the American population at large—the users were 60% female, 68% Protestant, and 48% politically independent. Thirty-nine percent had a graduate education, and users had a general score of 63.6 out of 100 on the God-awareness scale. (Honestly, all God stuff aside, kinda sounds like every politician's ideal voter.)
Also, given that SoulPulse is the creation of John Ortberg, and I haven’t noticed any Facebook or Spotify or other ads for the service, the population may largely consist of those who, um, know who Ortberg is and probably care about what he has to say.
The study is also limited by its use of the term “God.” Of course, this is a study about God awareness, so God is going to be apart of it! And the survey did assure people that “if this does not fit with your belief system, please substitute another word that calls to mind the divine or holy for you.” But there are plenty of people who would even feel uncomfortable using the word “holy” and/or “divine” to describe their idea of spirituality. The fact that the service doesn’t adjust its wording, instead asking the user to mentally switch it out, puts an unnecessary and othering pressure on the user.
And finally, we've written before about how the type of God a person believes in can affect how he or she copes with cancer—but how does believing in a benevolent supreme being affect “God awareness” as opposed to a big ol’ meanie supreme being? The study didn't address this possibility.
“One of the things we say at the end of the paper is that we need to look at positive and negative experiences with God, but also with spirituality,” Kucinskas said. “There’s a correlation between grandiosity and having spiritual experiences, so that’s something we will need to look at in the future as well.”
So if you’re feeling guilty about not being one with universe (namaste) while playing FarmVille (people still play that, right?), don't be too hard on yourself. I mean, I consider myself a spiritual person, but sometimes a well-timed zit is all it takes for me to declare there really is no God.