With unemployment statistics still in mediocre territory, 70 percent of American employees disengaged at work, and 41 percent of college grads in jobs that they are academically overqualified for, it's fairly apparent Americans are feeling professionally discouraged and unfulfilled. Our response to these feelings may be to focus more on factors that are external to us and quantifiable: What graduate degrees yield the highest rate of employment? What jobs garner the highest salaries? How much would I have to earn to afford this big home in that nice neighborhood? During tenuous economic times such as these, internal motivations and authentic passions can fall by the wayside as you search for a way to make ends meet and not fall behind others vying for the same job posts and steady income you desire.
The value of turning inward
Practical concerns such as making a living and climbing the career ladder are valid and will never go away. However, research has also shown that removing yourself from external pressures and turning inward to reflect on your own priorities and goals may help you weather trying times better and ultimately find personal and professional success. One way to accomplish this internal reflection and its associated benefits is through meditation.
According to Inc., a recent study by Harvard Medical School, the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and Germany's Bender Institute of Neuroimaging found that people who meditated saw significant improvements in emotional regulation, learning and memory capacities, and life perspectives. Similarly, Professor David Levy of the Information School at the University of Washington found that employees who engaged in mindfulness meditation reported feeling much calmer and better able to take on workplace challenges such as multitasking than did people who did not engage in meditation.
Are spiritual people more resilient?
Meditation, which is a central practice of major religions such as Buddhism, is one of several ways in which spirituality and/or religion has been shown to benefit people personally and professionally. According to The British Psychological Society, a small study conducted by Dr. Roxane Gervais in the U.K. found that religious employees were less likely to be afflicted with fatigue, depression and anxiety in the workplace than their non-religious peers.
"Religiosity in the workplace may act as a resource, making people more resilient to cope with the many challenges of working life," Gervais explained.
Similarly, The Washington Post reported psychology professor Catherine Sanderson's findings that religious or spiritual individuals were happier overall than their non-religious peers, regardless of the specific religion they followed. Sanderson attributes pious individuals' enhanced well-being to the "sense of meaning" and "social network" that their religion affords them.
Life and career advice from the world's religions
Though some of us have perfectly valid reasons not to follow any particular religion, the benefits displayed by people who practice religion or incorporate spiritual practices into their daily routine indicate that the world's religions may have some useful advice for all of us -- religious or not -- about approaching challenges, staying focused and maintaining optimism. Below are just three of the numerous tenets that several of the world's religions have in common -- tenets which, if incorporated into your personal life and workday, could yield positive results.
One of the main teachings of Buddhism is that suffering is an undeniable fact of human life. Buddhism encourages its followers to first accept the reality of suffering and then minimize the suffering they experience by relinquishing desires that are attached to external values (such as money and status), and focusing on rightful thinking and meaningful relationships. Acceptance is not just helpful in religious contexts -- it can also help you overcome hardships like a rough few months at work, a spell of unemployment or navigating difficult work and personal relationships. Instead of denying, ignoring or becoming angry about a problematic situation, try neutralizing the negativity you might feel by accepting the circumstances and focusing on an action plan to move forward and tackle what is within your control.
A quote from the Holy Bible's Thessalonians reads, "Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you […], and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves […] encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all." Compassion is at the heart of not only Christianity, but many of the world's religions. For example, one of the core aims of the Baha'i faith is to discourage prejudice and encourage followers to form a strong understanding of and compassion for all individuals, regardless of their nationality, religion, race or class. Compassion benefits all areas of one's life, as it helps one to foster strong relationships with others at home, school and the workplace.
Nearly all of the world's religions have practices intended to strengthen their followers' discipline. From religious fasts such as Lent and Ramadan, to daily rituals of worship, to steering oneself away from negative thoughts and behaviors, discipline and self-regulation permeate the daily lives of many religious and/or spiritual individuals. Whether you are religious or not, fostering discipline can only help your personal life and career growth. Having the discipline to complete work projects, withhold stinging criticism in favor of constructive comments, and refrain from activities that waste your time, money and energy can help you both mature and achieve your goals more quickly.
The link between religious principles and emotional intelligence
The tenets of acceptance, compassion and discipline described above relate to a hot career topic currently buzzing around the media-sphere: emotional intelligence. First coined in the 1990s, emotional intelligence is, according to psychologist Daniel Goleman, comprised of qualities such as self-awareness, self-regulation, internal motivation and empathy. In his piece for the Harvard Business Review, Goleman explains how business leaders require not only conventional intelligence and skills, but also emotional intelligence in order to succeed and inspire others.
The link between emotional intelligence, leadership and spiritual practices may help to explain why, according to Inc., business leaders such as Russell Simmons and Ray Dalio engage in meditation, as did Steve Jobs. Goleman's assertions that effective professional leaders need compassion, discipline and self-awareness -- qualities advocated in and fostered by numerous religions and spiritual practices -- help illustrate how applicable certain religious and spiritual wisdom is to our modern daily lives.
"Abandoning Prejudice," Baha'i International Community, http://info.bahai.org/article-1-3-2-14.html
"Compassion to Others," OpenBible.info, http://www.openbible.info/topics/compassion_to_others
"Following the Buddha's Footsteps," San Francisco State University, Instilling Goodness School, http://online.sfsu.edu/rone/Buddhism/footsteps.htm
"Four Out of 10 Recent College Grads are Underemployed, New Accenture Research Finds," Accenture, 30 April 2013, Nancy Goldstein and Rachel Frey, http://newsroom.accenture.com/news/four-out-of-10-recent-college-grads-are-underemployed-new-accenture-research-finds.htm
"Meditation can keep you more focused at work, study says," USA Today, 10 July 2012, Anita Bruzzese, http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/jobcenter/workplace/bruzzese/story/2012-07-08/meditation-helps-your-work/56071024/1
"Religion is a sure route to happiness," Washington Post, 24 January 2014, Sally Quinn, http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/religion/religion-is-a-sure-route-to-true-happiness/2014/01/23/f6522120-8452-11e3-bbe5-6a2a3141e3a9_story.html
"Religious Employees May Be Happier," The British Psychological Society, http://www.bps.org.uk/news/religious-employees-may-be-happier
"Sit. Breathe. Be a Better Leader," Inc., 18 October 2011, Tatiana Serafin, http://www.inc.com/articles/201110/more-and-more-entrepreneurs-meditate-how-and-why-you-should-too.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+inc%2Fheadlines+%28Inc.com+Headlines%29
"State of the American Workplace," Gallup, http://www.gallup.com/strategicconsulting/163007/state-american-workplace.aspx
"What makes a leader?" Harvard Business Review, January 2004, Daniel Goleman, http://hbr.org/2004/01/what-makes-a-leader/ar/1