The Rolling Stones may have gotten no satisfaction — but a new study suggests there is one key factor that could offer serious improvement.
People who believe in the idea that everything in the world is connected and interdependent — called “oneness” — have greater life satisfaction than those who don’t, finds research published by the American Psychological Association. And while the idea of oneness often goes hand in hand with religion, you don’t have to be religious to see the benefits.
"The feeling of being at one with a divine principle, life, the world, other people, or even activities has been discussed in various religious traditions but also in a wide variety of scientific research from different disciplines," said study author Laura Marie Edinger-Schons, Ph.D., of the University of Mannheim, in a press release. "The results of this study reveal a significant positive effect of oneness beliefs on life satisfaction, even controlling for religious beliefs."
The study, published in the journal Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, involved two surveys of 75,000 people in Germany. In the first study, 7,000 people responded to a series of statements that measured their belief in oneness, such as “I believe that everything in the world is based on a common principle” and “Everything in the world is interdependent and influenced by each other.” They also responded to statements that measured their connectedness to other people and nature, empathy, and life satisfaction. Edinger-Schons then used the answers to place participants on a oneness scale.
The results showed that people with higher oneness scores reported significantly more overall happiness. To double-check that these results were stable, nearly half of the respondents repeated the same survey six week later — and oneness beliefs remained the same.
In the second, larger part of the study, 67,000 Germans were surveyed to assess whether beliefs in oneness could explain a person’s life satisfaction regardless of whether the person was religious. Those surveyed came from diverse religious backgrounds, with Judaism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism all represented. In addition, more than one-fourth of those surveyed said they were atheists.
"I recognized that in various philosophical and religious texts, a central idea is the idea of oneness," said Edinger-Schons. "In my free time, I enjoy surfing, Capoeira, meditation and yoga, and all of these have been said to lead to experiences that can be described as being at one with life or nature or just experiencing a state of flow through being immersed in the activity. I was wondering whether the larger belief in oneness is something that is independent of religious beliefs and how it affects satisfaction with life."
Results of this larger survey showed oneness scores did vary with different religions (for example, Muslims had the highest median score on the oneness scale, while atheists had the lowest). However, oneness scores were much better predictors of life satisfaction than religious beliefs overall.
"I did not find it surprising that atheists have the lowest levels of oneness beliefs in the sample, but what surprised me was that oneness beliefs were actually very different across various religious affiliations," she said. "Also, when oneness beliefs were taken into account, many of the positive effects of religious affiliation on life satisfaction disappeared."
The major takeaway? Well, for Edinger-Schons, these findings suggest that enhancing people’s belief in oneness could seriously boost their overall happiness — and may be even more effective at doing so than traditional religious beliefs and practices.
How to achieve oneness
If you’re not exactly feeling the oneness yet, there are steps you can take to cultivate it — and its sister concept, “flow,” which Edinger-Schons discusses in her study as one way to feel that sense of oneness. For example, yoga, meditation, and action sports all have the potential to help you attain that sense of oneness, per the study.
The theory of “flow” came about in the 1970s, thanks to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Basically, “flow” is when you’re so absorbed in an activity that everything else around you seems to fade away — you’re fully immersed and time seems to stand still. Flow can have tons of benefits, according to research — including a sense of personal fulfillment. And who doesn’t want that?
If you want to learn how to increase your sense of flow, check out these five tips from behavioral and brain scientist Nick Hobson, Ph.D..
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