New research from the American Psychological Association shows that, regardless of religion, people who have a greater sense of oneness — that being the belief that everything in the world is connected and interdependent — appear to be more satisfied with life in comparison with those who are disconnected from oneness.
“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, PhD, of the University of Mannheim. “The results of this study reveal a significant positive effect of oneness beliefs on life satisfaction, even controlling for religious beliefs.”
Edinger-Schons’s study, published in the AMA journal Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, relied on two surveys that involved nearly 75,000 German participants. Participants of the first study were asked to respond to a series of questions aimed at measuring their belief in oneness. They were also instructed to respond to concepts like social connectedness, connectedness to nature, and empathy as well as life satisfaction.
Using the responses from the survey, Edinger-Schon was able to determine that people who scored high in the belief of oneness often exhibited greater satisfaction in life. To determine if oneness was a fixed construct or a changing variable, Edinger-Schon gave the same participants the same survey six weeks later. Those who responded shows the same amount of belief in oneness that they did weeks earlier.
“Obviously, oneness beliefs are more than a situation-specific feeling or mood,” Edinger-Schon said. “They rather seem to represent a general attitude toward life.”
In the second survey, Edinger-Schon wanted to see if belief in oneness was connected to one’s overall satisfaction with life, above religion, believing that oneness may enhance satisfaction more than religious beliefs.
“I recognized that in various philosophical and religious texts, a central idea is the idea of oneness,” she said. “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.”
She surveyed a variety of participants with different religious affiliations, including atheism, and found that oneness scores did vary by religion, however, oneness scores were more linked to satisfaction in life in comparison with religious beliefs.
“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, with Muslims having the highest levels,” Edinger-Schon said. “Also, when oneness beliefs were taken into account, many of the positive effects of religious affiliation on life satisfaction disappeared.”
She concludes that enhancing oneness via yoga, meditation, sports, or access to nature, may improve one’s satisfaction with one’s life.