I think every informed person agrees there is a correlation with how we nourish ourselves with food and our health. Consuming large amounts of high fructose drinks, junk food, and foods loaded with empty carbohydrates on a regular basis will usher in a variety of chronic deleterious conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and kidney problems. Clearly then, how we nourish ourselves is of paramount importance because as the maxim goes: “When you have your health, you have everything.”

Really?

Don’t many of us know people who are in great health? They have their blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, BMI, and whatever other metrics we now use now to define health securely parked in the optimal zone. They are on diets named after people who lived 40,000 years ago or parts of the world that I have never visited. You can set your watch to their exercise schedule. They are good health personified.  Yet, some of them seem to be unhappy, don’t they? Conversely, don’t we also know people who have some chronic illness or are afflicted by maladies associated with advanced age, and don’t some of these “unfortunate” people seem happy? What’s going on?

"When we nourish ourselves with good people, projects, surroundings, love, magic, beauty and self-care, we radiate light into the world and continually sharpen our vision, perception and clarity all at once." - Victoria Erickson

I think we misinterpret the maxim. It is a statement of gratitude, rather than fact. Obviously, we should be grateful for good health, but good health alone doesn’t guarantee happiness. Happiness, it seems to me, results from another kind of nourishment—spiritual nourishment. And the good news is spirituality in this context is a big tent. It can include actively participating in an organized religion, or studying a particular faith or a worldview on your own, or simply acknowledging the spiritual in the grandeur of nature. Nourishing ourselves in our own choice of spirituality brings us a greater sense of purpose. Human beings, unlike animals, are so much more than their mere bodies. Health without purpose in our lives is vacuous.

The good news continues to get better. It fortuitously turns out that physical and spiritual nourishment do not provide mutually exclusive benefits. In a study by Barbara L. Fredrickson, Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the researchers examined the biological influence of the two forms of happiness, hedonic (physical) and eudaimonic (from daimon—true nature), on the human immune system. They found that people who experienced eudaimonic happiness, that is, happiness from caring more about others than themselves and seeing the world as being something more than just their own personal realm responded to stress better and they had stronger immune systems than those people experiencing only hedonistic pleasures.

Plainly stated, nourishing ourselves spiritually makes us both healthier and happier. Feeding our spiritual hunger slows down our hectic pace. It simplifies our overly complex lives. It silences our noisy thoughts. And, most importantly, it makes us aware of life beyond our selfish being. The result is a state of conscious that will pull us through times of adversity, much more so than that kale salad.

"When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life." - Jean Shinoda Bolen

How can we go about nourishing ourselves spiritually? I think simplicity fosters consistency. Like physical nourishment, feeding our spiritual side needs to be done daily, but it need not consume a lot of our time if we don’t want it to. This is especially important for people who are beginning to partake of this new nourishment. If you want to start feeding yourself spiritually, I suggest a routine incorporating one or more of the following:

  • Prayer and/or meditation
  • Reading religious books or the writings of the great philosophers
  • Walking in nature in a mindful manner
  • Connecting with others who are also taking in spiritual nourishment

You can start with a few minutes a day and work yourself to a level where you feel sated. It might be helpful to keep track of your efforts by journaling your experiences as you progress. By partaking in some or all of the above, you should gradually feel yourself slowing down, calming down, and becoming more aware of others.

Eat up, spiritually that is. It will do your mind and your body good.

___________________________________

Jeff Strausser is an author, a playwright, and a freelance writer. His short stories have been published in various literary journals, and he has contributed articles to various magazines.  In addition, he has written four textbooks for Barron’s Educational Series. Jeff’s stage plays have been performed by high school and community theatre groups throughout the United States and England. His website can be found here.

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