Life satisfaction is a judgment we make about our lives. Anchored in the present, we look to the past to assess whether our current living conditions and the goals we have achieved correspond to our aspirations and dreams.
Our level of life satisfaction is an essential factor for subjective well-being. In other words, the more satisfied we feel with our lives, the greater our well-being. However, life satisfaction is not only rewarding and contributes to our emotional well-being, it has also been linked to higher cognitive performance in the young and better health in old age.
Obviously, life satisfaction depends on an infinity of factors. Recently, psychologists at the University of Mannheim discovered that one of the most important variables is the feeling of connection and being one with the universe.
Being one with the universe drives life satisfaction
The researchers conducted two surveys involving nearly 75,000 people. In one of them they included a series of statements specially designed to assess the belief in unity, for example: “I believe that everything in the world is based on a common principle” or “We are all interdependent”.
They also included statements to measure aspects related to unity, such as social connection, bond with nature and empathy, as well as happiness. They found a significant correlation between the feeling of unity and life satisfaction.
People who felt more connected to the world, others or a divinity and were firmly convinced that they were part of it, felt much more satisfied with their lives, with the things they had achieved and with their current conditions.
The feeling of unity is not unique to religions
In a second survey, the researchers explored whether that sense of unity stemmed primarily from religion. In fact, there are different religions that convey this idea of unity, as well as philosophical systems and transcendental experiences, such as meditation or yoga, that allow you to connect with the universe and feel in harmony.
However, after analyzing people with different religious beliefs, as well as atheists, these psychologists found that all participants could experience this sense of connection and unity, regardless of their religious orientation, although it brought different nuances to the experience, obviously.
How to be one with the universe?
There is no separation between people, animals, objects, planets or galaxies, we are all one and the same thing. That is the basis of the feeling of oneness. However, understanding that message at a cognitive level, without internalizing it, will not do much good because we will continue to feel like we are separate and alone individuals.
“Despite all the theories, as long as we are internally divided, we will feel that we are isolated from life,” warned Alan Watts. Therefore, we need to experience the feeling of unity on an experiential level.
In fact, it is important to understand an important terminological distinction: being part of the whole is not the same as being one with the whole. When we believe that we are part of the universe, we simply assume that we are one more piece, one more cog in the universal machinery. That feeling turns us into isolated atoms and can make us small. Instead, being one with the universe erases any distinction and allows us to grow because we greatly expand our limits.
To achieve this, we must accept that everything around us has its counterpart within us. Edwin Arnold gives us a clue: “By renouncing oneself, the universe becomes me”. We must stop feeling isolated from everything around us to understand that there is no “me” separate from what we perceive, know or feel. It is about stopping feeling superior, establishing distances or marking dividing limits between “me” and “you” or between “me” and the “world”.
Of course, this sense of universal connection is not a nebulous state of mind in which all distinction and individuality is lost, but implies the coexistence of apparently antagonistic states – such as unity and multiplicity, identity and difference – which are not really mutually exclusive, but they manifest themselves in unison in different ways.
Every day of our lives, we are ourselves, as a unique and independent entity, but at the same time we are part of our family, group of friends, society, the country where we live, nature and the universe. Everything happens at once. The differentiation only exists in our mind, in the attention we pay to one aspect or another. For this reason, at certain times we can feel more isolated beings while when we are in a group that individuality vanishes.
To experience that feeling of unity and connection with the whole, to truly be one with the universe, we must be aware that, in order to know reality, we cannot place ourselves outside of it, dissecting and cataloging it as if we were external observers, but rather we need to penetrate it, be it and feel it.
If we want to achieve this, the most direct and practical way is to learn to flow: to live each moment in its totality, being fully present here and now, in such a way that the barriers between the “me” and the “world” are erased. So we can feel more satisfied with life, simply because we are living – really.
Edinger-Schons, L. M. (2020) Oneness beliefs and their effect on life satisfaction. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality; 12(4): 428–439.