As they ring in the New Year, most people begin to look inward and wonder how their lives could improve.

While becoming physically or mentally healthier is great, it can also help to consider improving spiritual health as well.

“To be spiritually healthy in my world is to be in conversation with God all the time,” said the Rev. Suzi Jacobson of Holtville United Methodist Church. “It means a person is in contact with that part of ourselves and our world … that gives us hope for the future and the ability to see and understand through the present.”

Numerous studies have found links between increased spiritual health and its correspondingly positive effects on mental and physical health.

For example, a 2004 study by Duke University Medical Center found that religious activities, attitudes and spiritual experiences by older hospitalized patients are linked to greater social support, better psychological health and, in some ways, better physical health.

A University of Missouri study published in May also shows a correlation between health and spirituality, regardless of religious differences.

The study participants included Catholics, Buddhists, Protestants, Muslims and Jews, and people from all of those faiths showed less neuroticism and greater extraversion.

“Spiritual beliefs may be a coping device to help individuals deal emotionally with stress,” study co-author and religions studies assistant professor Dan Cohen told the MU News Bureau.

Traditional religion is not for everyone, but it appears that at least a level of spirituality can be beneficial.

All major religions and most spiritually healthy people incorporate the Golden Rule.

“If everyone else in the world treated everyone else the way they want to be treated themselves, we would have ourselves a wonderful world,” Jacobsen said.

Volunteer work is a widely accessible first step.

“The easiest way for one person to become spiritually aware is to reach out to another person, especially another person in need,” Jacobson said. “I think it’s really important for anyone, whether part of faith tradition or not, to reach out, not to just stay in your church for example.”

The community offers plenty of places to do that whether helping out at The Salvation Army in El Centro on New Year’s Day, making sandwiches for the homeless each Sunday at First United Methodist Church or helping community youths as a court appointed child advocate.

The Imperial Valley Interfaith Council holds several interdenominational gatherings a year, and Jacobson said visiting one could also possibly improve one’s spiritual health.

“It’s not only just the kinds of acts that have to do with material things, but one needs to be generous in spirit so that just being with a person in a different faith and tradition and extending generosity, compassion and peace to that person is something that goes beyond any expectation,” she said.

Her final recommendation is to simply be thankful since it will create a ripple effect of positive energy in your life.

“Just get up in the morning and stretch and yawn and say, ‘Thank you … for another day here where I’m breathing and have the ability to think and enjoy life.’ Just do that little bit,” she said. “You don’t need to do 25 jumping jacks, but wake up and realize you are here and it’s a new day and you can give thanks for it.”

Staff Writer Chelcey Adami can be reached at 760-337-3452 or
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