Formal Religious Participation and Daily Spiritual Experiences: Separate, but Equal, Linkages with Psychological Well-Being?

Greenfield, Emily A., George Vaillant, and Nadine F. Marks
Working paper no. 2007-01


Building on the idea that religiosity and spirituality are related yet distinct phenomena, this study examined whether formal religious participation and daily spiritual experiences are independently and equally associated with diverse dimensions of psychological well-being (negative affect, positive affect, purpose in life, positive relations with others, personal growth, self-acceptance, environmental mastery, and autonomy). Data came from 1,801 respondents in the 2005 National Survey of Midlife in the U.S. (MIDUS). Results indicated that more frequent daily spiritual experiences were independently and consistently associated with better psychological well-being; three salutary associations were stronger among women than men. Although more frequent formal religious participation was independently associated with higher purpose in life, positive relations with others, and (among older adults) personal growth, it was also linked with lower autonomy and environmental mastery. Overall, results suggest that daily spiritual experiences and formal religious participation are linked in separate and non-equal ways with psychological well-being.