Quality of relationship with God provides a measure of one of four domains of spiritual well-being, the other three being relationship with self (in terms of meaning, purpose, and values in life); relationship with others (in terms of morality, culture, and religion [for those for whom it is important]); and relationship with the environment (beyond care, nurture, and stewardship to a real connection with nature) [1
]. These four domains of spiritual well-being have been assessed using the Spiritual Health And Life-Orientation Measure (SHALOM), which was developed with secondary school students, with the intention that language and conceptual clarity suitable for 12–18 year-olds should make the instrument appropriate for use with adults as well [2
The focus of spiritual ‘well-being’ fits with contemporary studies in the emerging field of positive psychology, which is dedicated to understanding the process of human happiness [3
]. Happiness is a multi-faceted concept often used synonymously with the notion of subjective well-being. Diener described three components of happiness as ‘frequency and degree of positive affect or joy; absence of negative feelings, such as depression or anxiety; and average level of satisfaction over a period’ [4
]. The Oxford Happiness Inventory (OHI), which is largely based on the inverse of the Beck Depression Index [5
], is one of the most frequently used instruments for assessing happiness [3
Consistent findings have been made in a number of studies relating happiness with personality traits, to the extent that happiness has been described as ‘a thing called stable extraversion’ [8
]. Extraversion (+) and Neuroticism (−) appeared to be the strongest predictors of happiness levels in several studies [3
]. Personality has been reported as a greater determinant of happiness than social class, money, social relationships, work, religion, or other external variables [3
Questions have been raised concerning any relationship between age and happiness, or life satisfaction. Fukuda contended there is an age effect for happiness with downward movement for 18–55 (and 80–89), and with upward movement for 56–69 [12
]. Although previous support for such a U-shaped relationship between life satisfaction and age had been presented [13
], others conclude there is only a weak U-shaped pattern in happiness for the 20–60 age range [14
]. Keeping age in mind, no age differences were found across a study of religious denominations, although conceptualizations of God varied dependent on religious affiliation [15
]. Relationship with God, which would be built on people’s conceptualizations of God, has also been found to be more strongly associated with happiness than is social cohesion, which was indicated by religious attendance in a study by Childs [16
Other studies with adults variously report positive correlations between church attendance and life satisfaction [17
], and participation in religious activities and well-being [18
], whereas, religious practice and happiness were positively associated among students in Germany [19
], but not in Estonia [20
]. Among young adults in Qatar, a relationship was found between health, well-being, and religiosity [21
], but church attendance did not predict life satisfaction among adolescents [22
], or well-being of graduate students [23
]. The conclusions that perceived control acts as mediator between religiosity/spirituality and well-being in adults [24
], and that intrinsic religiosity leads to improved spiritual well-being among seminary students [25
], point to internal motivation being a key to positive outcomes in well-being. Therefore, variations in findings by church attendance and religious affiliation are not surprising, particularly among the young, because many children are forced to attend by parents [26
] so they would not be likely to relate kindly to religion or God. The main motivation for some adolescents’ and adults’ participation in religious activities is obviously for human companionship, more than to celebrate and build relationships with God. In addition, religious affiliation appears to be a historical legacy for many, which is useful at times of census, weddings, and funerals, evidenced by marked variations, at least in Australia, between approximately 70% who claim religious affiliation on the census and about 5% who regularly attend religious activities [27
Previous studies have shown inconsistent results in the relationship between religion and happiness, depending on measures used [28
]. Five studies by Francis and others suggest a consistent relationship between happiness (measured using the OHI) with religiosity (assessed using the Francis Attitude to Christianity Scale (FACS)) [29
]. Although Francis et al
. claimed that the OHI was an appropriate measure of happiness, based on an adequate theoretical discussion of this construct, Kashdan later raised concerns about conceptual issues related to the OHI and the subsequent Oxford Happiness Questionnaire [30
]. The authors of the OHI acknowledged that a loose array of constructs was assessed by this instrument [31
]. The composition of the FACS is, as its name suggests, decidedly Christian, with five of its 24 items relating to Jesus, two items mention the bible and three items, the church. The other 14 items are more religious, not specifically Christian, with eight mentioning God, five prayer and one, both of these.
A more compact, general measure of relationship with God will be reported in this paper, as will a modified OHI. Studies in this paper will bypass the uncertainties of trying to assess the relationship with God through religious activities and affiliation, by directly addressing it through responses to the five items comprising the Transcendental domain of the Spiritual Health And Life-Orientation Measure (SHALOM) [2
In a study with university students, Gomez and Fisher [32
] reported that personal, communal, and environmental spiritual well-being provided additional variance to the prediction of happiness over personality dimensions assessed using Eysenck Personality Questionnaires [33
]. As transcendental spiritual well-being (relationship with God) did not provide similar influence in that sample, it was predicted that relationship with God could possibly be a critical factor in particular groups, such as those who are religious. In order to test this hypothesis, and any relationship with age of respondents, the emergent questions for this research became, ‘In what circumstances does connecting with God relate to happiness, over and above personality?’ and, ‘Does age enter this equation?’
In light of diversity in findings from previous studies of religiosity and church attendance with happiness and well-being, a direct measure of relationship with God was used here, instead of potentially flawed methods of assuming that religious activities, such as church attendance and religious affiliation, necessarily imply relationship with God. To this end, the importance of relating with God was assessed by the transcendental domain of the Spiritual Well-Being Questionnaire, called SHALOM. Happiness is a multi-faceted construct, often referred to as subjective well-being, assessed here using a modified 19-item Oxford Happiness Inventory (OHI-19), in which Factor Analysis revealed three components, called ‘contentment’, ‘expressions of happiness’, and ‘quality of life’. The happiness scales (OHI-19 and its three subsets) all related positively with Extraversion and negatively with Neuroticism, as measured by Eysenck’s Personality Questionnaires. The younger secondary school students reported greater happiness than the other participants in these studies. This work has shown that relating with God provided additional, small yet significant, explanation of variance in happiness, over and above that by personality and age.
Given the relatively small size of groups reported on here, additional replication studies are needed, with the instruments employed here, to check if a significant positive relationship between happiness and relationship with God is consistently shown among other people in other places.
One of the reviewers raised the question as to how this paper relates to Piedmont’s claim that spirituality represents an additional factor of personality [40
]. As that question is tangential to the key focus of this paper, comments will be made in this postscript. An opposing view to Piedmont’s is presented by Unterrainer et al.
who claim ‘religiosity could be understood as a personality trait…, whereas spirituality or the amount of Spiritual Well-Being might be better conceived as a distinctive indicator of subjective well-being’ ([41
], p. 124). Subjective well-being is often equated with happiness. In my work, spirituality is based on Fisher’s definition:
Spirituality is concerned with a person’s awareness of the existence and experience of inner feelings and beliefs, that give purpose, meaning and value to life. Spirituality helps individuals to live at peace with themselves, to love (God and)* their neighbour, and to live in harmony with the environment. For some, spirituality involves an encounter with God, or transcendent reality, which can occur in or out of the context of organised religion, whereas for others, it involves no experience or belief in the supernatural (NB * These words are placed in parentheses as they will be meaningless to those people who do not relate with [or believe in] God.
This definition underpinned the development of the Spiritual Well-Being Questionnaire (called SHALOM) used in this study. Previous research has shown that the Personal, Communal, and Environmental domains of spiritual well-being explain variance in happiness over and above personality [32
]. This study showed that the fourth domain of spiritual well-being, relating with God, does likewise. So, spiritual well-being is definitely related to happiness, or subjective well-being. The four domains of spiritual well-being are expressions of who a person is at their very core, or heart level. Therefore these features could fit with a definition of personality, described as ‘a dynamic and organized set of characteristics possessed by a person who uniquely influences his or her cognitions, emotions, motivations, and behaviors in various situations’ [42
]. If personality is an enduring feature of a person, and relating with God has been shown to lead to change in people’s lives, would this indicate that relating with God (one aspect of spirituality) leads to change in personality? Or, that spirituality/spiritual well-being per se
is an aspect of personality? Further work is needed to clarify the relationship between personality and spiritual well-being.