The Forgotten Dimension of Wellness?

What do you think of when I say Wellness? I’ll tell you what comes to mind for me….

Organic  food. Yoga. Happiness. Feeling healthy. Balance.

The list goes on…

Here at Student Wellness, we like to think about wellness holistically; here are nine dimensions of wellness:


Whew! NINE dimensions. This goes way beyond organic food and working out. If you are like me, you might notice one dimension that doesn’t seem to get as much attention as the others, but may actually have a bigger impact on your wellness than any other: Spirituality.


What is spirituality?

There is no easy answer to this question. Different people define spirituality differently. Generally, spirituality involves the search for meaning and understanding in life, transcending the physical world, or connecting to something larger than or outside oneself. For some, spirituality is grounded in their religious belief or faith in God or higher power. For others, spirituality may involve developing respect and awe for life, the world, and our interdependence. Spirituality is something that evolves; it is a way of being, a process, rather than a goal. And how you define spirituality in your life is up to you.


How do spirituality and religion intersect?

There are a myriad of definitions of spirituality and religion. Generally, spirituality is viewed as a more general term that involves finding meaning in life, transcending the physical world, and connecting to others. Religion provides a vehicle for spiritual practice, through faith in God or another higher power, core beliefs, rituals or practices, and fellowship with others.

Spirituality and religion can overlap, but the extent to which they overlap may differ for different people. Some people may view their spirituality as synonymous with their religious beliefs and practice, but a growing number of people, especially young people, in America identify themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” Here are some recent survey findings from the Pew Research Foundation:

  • 37% of respondents identify as “spiritual and not religious”
  • 32% of respondents under 30 list “no religious affiliation”
  • 68% of respondents believe in God

These findings are reflected in U.S. Census data on religious affiliation in America:

2008 (1990): Christian Other None
  76% (86%) 4% (3) 15% (8)

Compared to 1990, an increasing number of Americans identify None” as their religious affiliation, and those identifying as Christian has gone from 86% in 1990 to 76% in 2008.

Why is spirituality important?

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”
Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

College is a time of exploring and affirming identity, and this includes your spiritual identity. This may mean deepening the spiritual practice or religious faith you grew up with; or it may mean looking at spirituality in a new way and redefining it yourself. UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute has conducted a 7-year national study on spirituality among college students, and they have identified 10 dimensions of spirituality and religion:

Which of these areas most resonates with you? Which area would you like to focus more time and energy on? Examining these dimensions of spirituality and religion can help guide you in growing spiritually. And growing spiritually can positively affect other areas of your life.

Check out these findings from the UCLA study:

  • Among college students, spiritual growth is associated with better psychological well-being, higher GPA, and a commitment to promoting racial understanding.
  • Practices that promote spiritual development – especially service learning, interdisciplinary courses, study abroad, self-reflection, and meditation – have uniformly positive effects on traditional college outcomes, like retention and satisfaction.
  • Although religious engagement declines somewhat during college, students’ spiritual qualities grow substantially.
  • Exposing students to diverse people, cultures, and ideas through study abroad, interdisciplinary coursework, service learning and other forms of civic engagement helps students value multiple perspectives as they confront the complex social, economic, and political problems of our time.
  • Self-reflection and meditation are among the most powerful tools for enhancing students’ spiritual development.

Spirituality is linked to better health outcomes not only among college students, but also across the lifespan. Research examining spirituality’s role in health care shows that patients with a strong sense of spirituality have lower mortality, better coping skills, and higher resilience.


What does spirituality look like at UNC?

Well, we have some hard data on what religion looks like at UNC, or more specifically, religious affiliation, and UNC students mirror the national trends when it comes to religion:  72% Christian, 2% other, 19% none.

Here is a breakdown of the most common religious affiliations reported by UNC first years:

Religion at UNC[1]

But UNC students identified many more religious affiliations, including:

Buddhist, Eastern Orthodox, Episcopalian, Hindu, Jewish, LDS (Mormon, Lutheran, Muslim, Presbyterian, Quaker, Seventh Day Adventist, United Church of Christ, and other religion.

Additionally, 83% of UNC students report regularly attending a religious service.

But what I had a hard time finding was what spirituality looks like at UNC. Fifty-five percent of students said that developing a meaningful philosophy of life (aka spirituality!) was “essential” or “very important.” But how does that translate into practice?

So, here’s where we need YOUR HELP.

If you are looking for ways to develop your spirituality or connect with others that share your religious and spiritual beliefs check out our website for organizations on campus and in the community. Also, check out the UNC Mind-Body-Spirit webpage for events and resources for exploring spirituality.

Do you know of a local or campus group that is not listed on our website? Please LET US KNOW, and we will add it.

[1] 2009 UCLA Higher Education Research Institute, Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) annual Survey of Entering Freshmen.

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