As a Catholic community, we have just started the 40 days of Lent. In our faith tradition, this time is a time of Prayer, Fasting and Giving. These three areas each give us an opportunity to practice skills that promote our personal wellbeing. One of the most intriguing and exciting things about our knowledge of wellbeing through recent research is that much of what we do in an effort to improve ourselves and our contributions to community is in fact also good for us and promotes a more fulfilling life.
As we move into the Lenten season, it is worth recognising the many aspects of our Catholic practices that provide a basis for our personal wellbeing. As in the words that are attributed to the prayer of St Francis, “it is in giving that we receive”.
The focus on praying through the season of lent has the intention of building relationship with God, and also a focus on self-reflection. In prayer, our communication with God is not about one-way communication, it is about creating the space to hear what God would like for our lives. And the belief in a loving God would tell us the most significant outcome would be our sense of deep happiness and wellness, or as the gospel of John would tell us, a “full” life.
Within a wellbeing context, prayer, reflection and a connection to a higher sense of purpose are known to have a positive influence on our sense of wellbeing and connection. There are positive correlations between people who value spirituality and those who feel a sense of positive wellbeing.
Our understanding of fasting can be varied and has certainly evolved over time. Within the context of Lent, fasting is about committing to a minimalist lifestyle which does not rely on the material pleasures of life. Fasting encourages us to move back to basics and to move away from a consumerist lifestyle.
From a personal wellbeing perspective, consumerism is often seen in direct contrast with a healthy and happy life that marks optimal wellbeing. More and more people are recognizing that ‘things’ and momentary pleasures do not equate to the deep happiness that most of us hope to experience. With this lens, fasting is about giving ourselves the opportunity to experience simplicity and the happiness and connection that can come from this.
During Lent, we are called to give. For some this is interpreted as financial giving so that people in our community may have some of the necessities of life that they are missing out on. This call to give can also be understood in terms of giving of our time and talents to support others and to support the development of community.
Recent research has found a connection between giving and volunteering and positive wellbeing. As we contribute to our community and discover new ways to share our own strengths with others, we in turn experience a sense of connection and achievement that promote our positive emotion and our sense of happiness.
While the intention of Praying, Fasting and Giving during Lent are focused on self-improvement rather than personal wellbeing benefits, the wisdom of these practices are that the two are very much interconnected. In this time of Lent then, we recognise the great opportunity we have to access our Catholic practices for human thriving.