NCLS Research

Spirit Matters: how making sense of life affects wellbeing

The authors of a new book about Australian spirituality say there are significant links between how we make sense of life and our personal and societal wellbeing.

Spirit Matters, by Peter Kaldor, Philip Hughes and Alan Black, will be launched at the “Shaping Australia’s Spirituality” conference in Melbourne on August 31.

Subtitled How Making Sense of Life Affects Wellbeing, it presents an in-depth analysis of national surveys undertaken in Australia on wellbeing, religion, spirituality and how we make sense of life.

Despite what some commentators may say, religious ways of making sense of life are far from dead in contemporary Australia.

Approximately one quarter of Australians (26%) approach life from an actively religious perspective. Others (17%) are influenced by alternative spiritualities. Somewhat more than half (57%) are not influenced much by either religion or spirituality.

Most of this last group are not atheists, but are not sure what to believe, taking a secular approach to life by default.

From further analysis, the book identifies seven major approaches to life and asks: What are the consequences of a choice for one or another approach?

Spirit Matters pinpoints ways in which different approaches can affect personal wellbeing and the common good. It shows that some approaches are more likely than others to generate outcomes such as a strong sense of purpose, optimism and openness to personal growth.

The book also explores how the choices we make about our individual lives have implications for the wider community: to the way we relate to and trust each other, to the priority we place on concern for others and to living out such a wider concern, and to our levels of altruism and generosity.

“The implications,” says Peter Kaldor, “are not just for our own generation, but for the generations to come.”

Philip Hughes says, “Trends in recent times have left us with a wealth of life choices. People sometimes assume that it doesn’t matter very much what they choose.

“The data in this book shows that it does matter. The ways we choose to live influence our personal wellbeing and the wellbeing of the whole society.”

While there is much in the book of relevance to churches, religious and other groups concerned with spirituality and meaning, it is written in an accessible style for a wide audience. It addresses issues that should be of concern to every Australian.

According to Professor Black, the book has very significant implications for education. “We need to prepare young people to make wise choices about life and its directions.”

Findings also have implications for those who are concerned about social policy, personal and community wellbeing, including psychologists and community health workers, educators and religious leaders, politicians, community leaders and the general public.

Spirit Matters: How Making Sense of Life Affects Wellbeing
Kaldor, Hughes and Black
ISBN: 9780980827507 (pbk), Mosaic Press, August 2010, 161pp,

Spirit Matters is available from:

NCLS Research
Locked Bag 2002, Strathfield NSW 2135
Telephone: +61 2 9701 4479

The authors

Dr Peter Kaldor was the founding Director of NCLS Research and for 25 years has been involved in research and writing in the areas of spirituality, religion, social policy, wellbeing and effective leadership. He is an honorary research fellow of the Edith Cowan University Social Justice Research Centre, and continues to be an associate researcher and collaborative partner with NCLS Research.

Dr Philip Hughes, the author or co-author of many books and reports relating to spirituality and religion in Australia, as well as various publications on community life, has been a researcher with the Christian Research Association since 1985. He is currently an honorary research fellow of the Edith Cowan University Social Justice Research Centre.

Dr Alan Black was Foundation Professor of Sociology at Edith Cowan University before his retirement at the end of 2003. His fields of research and publication include religion, spirituality, wellbeing, social capital, and community life. As an Emeritus Professor he retains an active link with the Edith Cowan University Social Justice Research Centre.

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