Tran Vinh Tan
The Character Strength of Spirituality
In this post, we review the character strength of Spirituality and introduce a fun way to develop this strength through the art of movies proposed by Dr. Ryan M. Niemiec.
If a man is to live, he must be all alive, body, soul, mind, heart, spirit. – Thomas Merton
Spirituality is one of the 24 Character Strengths. It is within the virtue category of Transcendence, one of six virtues that subcategorize the 24 strengths (Wisdom and Knowledge, Courage, Humanity, Justice, Moderation/Temperance, Transcendence). As many other VIA Character Strengths, Spirituality has many dimensions: meaning, purpose, life calling, beliefs about the universe, the expression of virtue/goodness, and practices that connect with the transcendent. The character strength of spirituality is associated with forgiveness, kindness, volunteerism and a sense of purpose. It is one of the five strengths most associated with life meaning (Niemiec, 2018).
Psychologists at Bowling Green State University said: “Spirituality is defined as thoughts, feelings, and behaviors an individual engages in while searching for a relationship with the sacred” (Pargament & Saunders, 2007). Then, what is the sacred?
The VIA Institute on Character describes the sacredness as follow: “sacredness might be pursued as the search for a purpose in life or as a close relationship with something greater; the sacred might be experienced in the forgiveness offered by a child, a humble moment between a leader and a subordinate, an awe-inspiring sunset, a profound experience during meditation or a religious service, or the self-sacrificing kindness of a stranger”. By definition, sacred and spirituality is universal.
Developing Spirituality has showed to be beneficial in various dimensions: subjective well-being (positive emotions, life satisfaction), prosociality (Kor et al., 2019; Ryff, 2021), physical health (Koenig et al., 2012). It also serves as a protective factor in psychological adjustment to negative life experiences (Gall and Guirguis-Younger, 2013).
There are many ways and channels that we can develop our Spirituality strength. One of those is through the art of movies as proposed by Dr. Ryan M. Niemiec in his article on Positive Psychology News: “The sacred: Spirituality and Movies”. In this article, he explores number of ways that movies can help develop Spirituality:
1) Character Portrayals
Characters portraying in the movies engaging in sacred rituals, exhibiting deep faith at time of crisis, going on journeys of meaning and purpose, etc. Some examples: Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams (1989), a Jewish Nazi in The Believer (2001).
Characters connections with the sacred can be secular through meaning-seeking, meaning-making, and meaning-reconstruction (Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt (2002), Bill Murray in Broken Flowers (2005)), or religious through experience of deep meditation (Little Buddha (1993)), through religious gathering for a sacred Hindu festival in India (Kumbh Mela: Songs Of The River (2004)), or through dedicated ministry to the poor (Mother Teresa (2003)); or a blend of secular and religious nature (French film Monsieur Ibrahim (2003)).
2) The Film Itself
A movie itself can be a sanctified object: Zorba the Greek (1964), The Wizard of Oz (1939), Finding Nemo (2003). Each of these films as a whole can be seen as a sacred film for particular viewers.
3) The Viewer
Most important is the viewer’s own impression of the film, the characters, and the themes. A movie can tap into the unspoiled, sacred spot inside the viewer. The experience of the sacred is clearly an individual process. For example, with the American Beauty (1999), just as the character Ricky finds deep meaning in a piece of trash, many viewers can connect with the sacred moment depicted on-screen and connecting with the sacred after the movie’s conclusion.
Going further, in the article, Dr. Niemiec suggests some contemplative questions that help us develop our Spirituality strength while watching the movies:
- What do you find precious in your life? When you view films like those above, do they inspire you to go on a quest of your own to seek more meaning and purpose in your life?
- What film has a special (sacred) place in your heart?
- What is it like to watch this movie alone versus watching it with others?
- What thoughts and feelings do you have as you become aware of the sacred?
He also suggests some ways to apply the art of movies in your personal life and work:
- If you’re a teacher, show one of the above films and discuss with your students how the characters connect with the sacred.
- If you’re a clinician or coach, ask your clients how they connect with the sacred. Give them a homework exercise to view one of these films and to write down the sacred acts they view or directly experience while watching the film; make a point to discuss this with them at their next session.
- If you’re someone else, the next time you view a movie, focus on the sacred in the characters’ behaviors and interactions. Allow yourself to feel moved and connected.
Niemiec, R. M. (2017). Character strenghts interventions: A field guide for practitioners. Hogrefe Publishing.
Paragment, K.I., & Saunders, S.M. (2007). Introduction to the special issue on spirituality and psychotherapy. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 63(10), 903–907.
Kor, A., Pirutinsky, S., Mikulincer, M., Shoshani, A., & Miller, L. (2019). A longitudinal study of spirituality, character strengths, subjective well-being, and prosociality in middle school adolescents. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 377.
Ryff, C. D. (2021). Spirituality and well-being: theory, science, and the nature connection. Religions, 12(11), 914.
Koenig, H., King, D., and Carson, V. B. (2012). Handbook of religion and health. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Gall, T. L., and Guirguis-Younger, M. (2013). Religious and spiritual coping: current theory and research. In APA handbooks in psychology: APA handbook of psychology, religion, and spirituality: Vol 1. Context, theory, and research K. I. Pargament (ed.-in-Chief), J. J. Exline and J. Jones (Assoc. eds.), (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association), 349–364.