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Spiritual Wellness: Theoretical Links with Leisure

Key Message

Spiritual health and well-being act as major influences on the other dimensions of health. Spiritual wellness may play a very important role in leisure services for persons who have disabilities or who are devalued.


Heintzman, P. (1999) Spiritual Wellness: Theoretical Links with Leisure. Journal of Leisurability, 26(2).


Healthy refers not only to physical well being but also to the status of a number of related processes. It involves a holistic integration of the physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and social dimensions of people’s lives. If any of them are unbalanced, then it can lead to individuals seeking help from the health-care system. Frequently the popular view of the contribution of park and recreation agencies to health is limited to their potential for improving physical fitness through exercise. This is a myopic perspective because their role in facilitating positive emotional, intellectual, and social experiences is well documented. (1998, p. 141)

This paper, in an attempt to explore some of the possible linkages between leisure and the spiritual dimension of health, will review:
1. the concept of spiritual wellness,
2. empirical research on spiritual well-being; and
3. leisure and well-being theories and their implications for spiritual well-being.

Spiritual Wellness
The term spiritual wellness originates in the medical wellness and health promotion literature (Westgate, 1996). In a recent review of literature on spiritual wellness, Westgate found some agreement in regards to, first, the “integrating and growthproducing role of spirituality”, and second, attempts to distinguish between the elements of spirituality. As alluded to by Crompton (1998) in the above quotation, it is now commonly thought that wellness involves an integration of the physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and social dimensions of human functioning (Bensley, 1991). Theorists believe that the spiritual dimension, the realm of values and creativity, is an innate dimension of human functioning which can be viewed as the mechanism which integrates the other components and through which growth occurs (Bensley, 1991; Dunn, 1961; Ingersoll, 1994).

As Westgate (1996) puts it: “Spiritual wellness represents the openness to the spiritual dimension that permits the integration of one’s spirituality with the other dimensions of life, thus maximizing the potential for growth and self-actualization” (p. 27). As such, spiritual wellness is an integrative component, and not just an elementalistic component of wellness. As an integrative component of holistic wellness, spiritual wellness needs to be an important consideration in leisure services which can enhance the quality of life for persons who have disabilities or who are devalued.


What insights does this theory have for understanding leisure and spiritual well-being?
First, as noted earlier, spiritual well-being has been found to be positively correlated with self-esteem. Thus, spirituality may be an influential factor in the relationship between leisure and self-esteem. Second, models of leisure experiences and spiritual well-being tie in with the personal growth theories. Explanations of tourist and wilderness travel as quasi-religious experiences (Allcock, 1988; Horne, 1984; Ingerson, 1987; MacCannell, 1976; Turner & Turner, 1978), and explanations such as McDonald, Guldin, and Wetherhill’s (1988) “Commodel,” and McDonald’s (1989) model of expanding spheres of continuity which propose that outdoor recreation can provide an opportunity for spiritual growth, are examples of how personal growth explanations are related to spiritual well-being. In another primarily personal growth explanation, Heintzman (1997a) developed a model of leisure and spiritual wellness which proposed that a person’s leisure style can provide repeated opportunities and contexts in which the spiritual is explored rather than repressed, and where spiritual preoccupation (where one is preoccupied with spirituality to the detriment of the other dimensions of wellness) can be dealt with, resulting in spiritual development.

The relationships between leisure and spiritual wellness are not well documented, as is the case with the other four dimensions of wellness. However, an examination of the concept of spiritual wellness suggests that it is an integrative component of wellness which can have an empowering effect. Furthermore, there is a growing body of empirical research which documents that spiritual health acts as a major influence on the other dimensions of health. Finally, leisure and well-being. theories suggest that there may be a variety of ways in which leisure may influence spiritual wellness. From these three observations, we can conclude that spiritual wellness may play a very important role in leisure services for persons who have disabilities or who are devalued. For example, Rancourt (1991a, 1991b) found that spirituality was an important theme in the lives of women who participated in a comprehensive leisure education program as part of a six month substance abuse treatment program. While more research is needed on the role of leisure in spiritual wellness, present conceptualizations and research on spiritual well-being, as well as theorizing about leisure and well-being relationships, suggest the importance of the spiritual dimension in services for people who have disabilities or who are devalued.

As described elsewhere, there are a variety of possible ways to introduce the spiritual dimension into services for people who have disabilities or who are devalued:
1. including spiritual wellness in program objectives, themes, promotion and management;
2. incorporating spiritual wellness into existing programs (e.g., needs assessments, leisure education and values clarification, stress management, time management, outdoor recreation programs, behaviour modification and behavioural support groups, humour, social integration); and
3. developing or referring persons to programs dedicated exclusively to spiritual wellness (Heintzman, 1997b).

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Leadership Provided By:

  • Leisure Information Network (LIN)
  • Alberta Recreation and Parks Association

On Behalf Of:

  • Canadian Parks and Recreation Association (CPRAA)

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