In the realm of personal improvement science seems to be discovering what religion has known all along. Some of the most important human attributes identified by science to create a happy and fulfilling life include feelings of gratitude, caring for others, and holding aspirations.
Through prayer Christians express thankfulness, compassion, and create goals every day. “Dear Lord, Thank you for this food before me, please look after Uncle Bob with cancer, and give me strength to be a better parent.” Prayer is not simply a quick acknowledgement before dinner, but a recognition of God and everything he gives including his love and grace. Notice it’s not happiness. God never guaranteed joy or a warm bed. He does offer comfort in the face of difficult times. He offers life… messy, complicated, impossible to predict, life.
Meditation is different from prayer and has different techniques. But basically a meditator observes their thoughts as they arise while focusing on breath. Meditation does not involve the worship of a specific deity. The process calms the mind and body to enable a positive mind and more intentional thoughts and actions. Relaxing the body and mind has a powerful impact, similar to prayer, in clarifying goals, unearthing empathy, and encouraging gratitude.
Perhaps we need to read the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, and other spiritual texts to discover the way to a fulfilling life. We have a smug belief that we are different from people of the past because as Americans we live with such abundance and technology has changed how we live our lives daily. Yet people have always been searching for the meaning of life and how to make it more fulfilling. The basic structure of being human has not changed. Everyone, past and present has had a thinking mind. How we use that mind differentiates us from other animals on the planet. The mind, so powerful that it changes the physical body, can make our lives better or worse. We have choices.
Science cannot tell use how the mind works. Instead scientists gather statistics on what behaviors and thought processes benefit most people. Maybe it’s time to find out what works for ourselves.