How Spirituality Rewires Our Brain & Why It’s So Needed Right Now



Research shows that a teen with strong personal spirituality is 75 to 80% less likely to become addicted to drugs and alcohol, and 60 to 80% less likely to attempt suicide. The data clearly show that young people with a connection to their spiritual core are far more likely to engage character strengths and virtues such as optimism, grit, commitment, and forgiveness.

It’s worth noting that in this context, spirituality and religion are two different things. Our capacity for spirituality is innate, while religion is transmitted through family and community as an embrace of this natural spirituality.

As the founder and director of the Spirituality Mind Body Institute at Columbia, I study the neuroscience of the spiritual brain. Our MRI research has demonstrated how the specific circuits in the brain associated with spiritual awareness grow stronger and thicker when we tap into our innate spiritual core.

When we engage this “spiritual brain station,” we perceive that we are in partnership with our Higher Power (the name changes across faith, wisdom, cultural, and religious traditions), helping us feel loved, held, guided, and never alone. 

Evidence from MRI studies on the spiritual brain shows that we are hard-wired to be able to “hand it over,” in times of pain, isolation, and uncertainty or to discover direction and guidance. But we shouldn’t wait until we reach a low point to act in a partnership with our Higher Power. The neural docking station responsible for holding and firing these circuits needs to be constantly strengthened—much like a muscle—for young adults to be prepared to move through life’s challenges and adversity with awakened awareness.  

Some of us are more predisposed than others to feeling spiritually connected, but we can all cultivate this natural capacity for faith at any time—and as our research is showing, we absolutely should.

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