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Examining the Relationships Between Gratitude and Spiritual and Religious Identification Among Collegiate Athletes



Salient aspects of an athlete’s identity hold implications for how sport psychology practitioners conceptualize and intervene on both the mental health and performance realms of the athlete person. Given that spirituality, religiosity, and gratitude have been associated in previous literature, the current study examined whether athletes differed in dispositional gratitude based on their spiritual and religious identification. Results indicated that among 331 NCAA Division I-III athletes, those who identified as both spiritual and religious scored significantly higher in dispositional gratitude than self-identified spiritual/non-religious and non-spiritual/non-religious athletes. Non-spiritual/non-religious and spiritual/non-religious athletes did not significantly differ in levels of gratitude. Findings and limitations of the current study warrant further investigation on this topic, and recommendations for future research and practice are provided.
Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, (Ahead of Print)
© 2019 Human Kinetics, Inc. ORIGINAL RESEARCH
Examining the Relationships Between
Gratitude and Spiritual and Religious
Identication Among Collegiate Athletes
Nicole T. Gabana, Aaron DAddario, Matteo Luzzeri, and
Stinne Soendergaard
Florida State University
Y. Joel Wong
Indiana University Bloomington
Salient aspects of an athletes identity hold implications for how sport psychology
practitioners conceptualize and intervene on both the mental health and perfor-
mance realms of the athlete person. Given that spirituality, religiosity, and
gratitude have been associated in previous literature, the current study examined
whether athletes differed in dispositional gratitude based on their spiritual and
religious identication. Results indicated that among 331 NCAA Division I-III
athletes, those who identied as both spiritual and religious scored signicantly
higher in dispositional gratitude than self-identied spiritual/non-religious and
non-spiritual/non-religious athletes. Non-spiritual/non-religious and spiritual/
non-religious athletes did not signicantly differ in levels of gratitude. Findings
and limitations of the current study warrant further investigation on this topic, and
recommendations for future research and practice are provided.
Keywords:holistic, mental health, multicultural, student-athlete, well-being
A multidimensional approach to wellness has called for increased attention
to spiritual well-being, given its association with improved quality of life, coping,
and factors related to mental and physical health such as depression and injury
rehabilitation (Beauchemin, Gabana, Ketelsen, & McGrath, 2019;Wilson,
Forchheimer, Heinemann, Warren, & McCullumsmith, 2017). Similarly, sport
psychology literature has emphasized the importance of taking a holistic approach
to the athlete performer, advocating for an integration of the physical, psychologi-
cal, social, emotional, and cultural aspects of the individual. While some researchers
Gabana is with the Department of Educational Psychology and Learning Systems, Florida State
University, Tallahassee, FL. DAddario, Luzzeri, and Soendergaard are with Florida State University,
Tallahassee, FL. Wong is with Indiana University Bloomington, Bloomington, IN. Address author
correspondence to Nicole T. Gabana at
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have examined spirituality among athletes, the spiritual realm tends to be neglected
in sport psychology research (Nesti, 2007) even despite the established relationship
between spirituality, mental health, and well-being (Sarkar, Hill, & Parker, 2014). A
greater understanding of the spiritual and religious dimensions of an athletes
identity may provide insight into important factors such as where the athlete derives
meaning, core values and belief systems, and mechanisms for coping with adversity
(Egli, Fisher, & Gentner, 2014;Nesti, 2011). Researchers have also suggested that
spirituality can play a valuable role in sport performance enhancement (Watson &
Nesti, 2005) and athlete mental health.Amrhein, Barkhoff, and Keiby (2016) found
that greater levels of spirituality were associated with less depressive symptoms
and more spiritual sport experiences among surfers. Since the majority of college
students in the U.S. have reported being spiritual and/or religious (Higher Education
Research Institute, 2003), more research is needed to understand how this aspect
of an athletes identity impacts their experience in sport, as well as other variables
which may be linked to mental health, well-being, and performance. This informa-
tion would provide sport psychology researchers and practitioners with a greater
understanding of these relationships, while using this knowledge to inform
approaches aimed at promoting optimal well-being and performance through faith-
based interventions, when appropriate.
A Positive Psychological Approach
to Athlete Well-Being
In recent decades, the positive psychology movement has focused its efforts on
studying contributing factors to human ourishing (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi,
2000). Positive psychology literature has demonstrated numerous mental and
physical health benets derived from gratitude, as well as through the intentional
cultivation of gratefulness through applied interventions (Bono, Krakauer, & Froh,
2015;Wood, Froh, & Geraghty, 2010). Supplemental interventions such as writing
a gratitude letter can have signicant positive effects on psychotherapy outcomes
(i.e., better mental health), as well as greater neural modulation by gratitude in the
pre-frontal cortex (Kini, Wong, McInnis, Gabana, & Brown, 2017;Wong, Gabana,
Zounlome, Goodrich Mitts, & Lucas, 2017). Since athlete gratitude has been
associated with higher levels of well-being such as life and sport satisfaction,
perceived social support, and lower levels of burnout (Chen, 2013;Chen & Kee,
2008;Gabana, Steinfeldt, Wong, & Chung, 2017), investigating factors that may
predispose an athlete to be grateful (e.g., spiritual identication, religious practice)
would inform the body of knowledge in both the positive psychology and sport
psychology literature. Recent research has demonstrated initial support for the
use of gratitude interventions in sport, as Gabana, Steinfeldt, Wong, Chung, and
Svetina (2019) found increases in psychological well-being (state gratitude, sport
satisfaction, and perceived social support) and decreases in ill-being (psychologi-
cal distress and athlete burnout) following a 90-minute Attitude of Gratitude
workshop with NCAA Division I athletes. More research in this area is needed to
substantiate these ndings and implications.
Spirituality and/or religiosity may be relevant to the generation or expression
of gratitude since many religions promote gratitude as part of their practice
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(Emmons & Crumpler, 2000) and religiosity has been shown to be related to
prosocial behaviors such as gratitude expression (Li & Chow, 2015). Gabana et al.
(2017) recommended that examining demographic variables such as self-reported
spirituality and religiosity may be informative in learning whether certain athletes
are predisposed to higher levels of trait gratitude, or more responsive to gratitude
interventions. Grateful people (i.e., those with higher levels of dispositional
gratitude) have reported higher levels of optimism, vitality, life satisfaction, and
positive emotions, and concordantly lower levels of stress, depression, resentment,
envy, and negative affect (McCullough, Emmons, & Tsang, 2002).
Gratitude, Spirituality, Religiosity, and Mental Health
Spirituality has been associated with many positive characteristics such as courage,
love, gratitude, selessness, altruism, and coping (Pieper, 1995). These qualities
may be advantageous to the spiritual athlete both on and off the eld, as research
has demonstrated positive connections between spirituality, mental health, and
well-being (Sarkar et al., 2014). Both religion and spirituality have been repeatedly
correlated with gratitude (Adler & Fagley, 2005;Emmons & Kneezel, 2005;
McCullough et al., 2002;Watkins, Woodward, Stone, & Kolts, 2003), with
research revealing that individuals who scored higher on measures of spirituality,
general religiousness, religious interest, and intrinsic religiousness also reported
higher levels of gratitude (McCullough et al., 2002;Watkins et al., 2003).
Furthermore, Emmons and Kneezel (2005) found that frequency of religious
practices, importance of religion, and ones personal relationship with God were
signicantly associated with higher dispositional gratitude. In regard to mental
health outcomes, an epidemiological study by Kendler et al. (2003) found that
among 2,621 participants, those who scored higher in religiously orientated
thankfulnesswere at signicantly lower risk for major depression, generalized
anxiety disorder, alcohol and drug dependence, bulimia nervosa, and phobia, as
assessed by a diagnostic interview. Furthermore, results revealed that the thank-
fulnessvariable predicted psychopathology most consistently and strongly, as
compared to other aspects of religiosity.
These ndings were further supported by Rosmarin, Krumrei, and Pargament
(2010), who reported that increased levels of gratitude and spirituality were
negatively correlated with anxiety and depression among Christian and Jewish
participants. Researchers suggested that cultivating a greater sense of gratitude
may benet the treatment of depression and anxiety, further stating that spirituality
and gratitude would be well suited for combinationin both empirical and applied
endeavors, given the empirical and theoretical links between these two constructs
(Rosmarin et al., 2010, p. 4). Recently, the directionality of this relationship was
examined and spiritual well-being predicted higher levels of gratitude above
and beyond participantspersonality and affect in both intensity and valence
(Tudder, Buettner, & Brelsford, 2017). Tudder et al. concluded that the way people
experience gratitude in their lives is uniquely inuenced by their religious and/or
spiritual experiences.
There are several mechanisms that may explain the relationship between
gratitude, spirituality, and religiosity. As mentioned earlier, both spirituality and
gratitude have been associated with measures of well-being such as lower
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depressive symptoms and a greater sense of hope (Laird, Snyder, Rapoff, & Green,
2004;Wood et al., 2010). Specically, prayers of thanksgiving which are inherent
to many prominent western religious traditions (e.g., Christianity, Judaism, Islam)
have been negatively correlated with anxiety and depression (Laird et al., 2004).
Interestingly, prayers of thanksgiving were found to be the second most common
type of prayer among college students in the U.S. after prayers of petition
(McKinney & McKinney, 1999). Prayer may function as a type of ritual reminding
individuals to focus on gratitude (Adler & Fagley, 2005). Yet even prayer that is
not aimed toward gratitude or thanksgiving has been shown to increase disposi-
tional gratitude over a period of four weeks. Lambert, Fincham, Braithwaite,
Graham, and Beach (2009) not only found a correlation between prayer frequency
and gratitude, but determined that prayer frequency predicted gratitude even after
controlling for gratitude and religiosity. In an experimental portion of the same
study, participants who were randomly assigned to pray daily (either general
prayer or praying for a partner) reported higher levels of gratitude than those in a
control group, even when social desirability and religious inclination were
controlled for (Lambert et al., 2009). Findings have shown that prayer may
directly increase gratitude, even when gratitude is not a direct focus of the
condition. In another randomized, waitlist-controlled study, 12 sessions of spiritual
group therapy improved cancer patientsspiritual well-being and quality of life
scores (Zamaniyan, Bolhari, Naziri, Akrami, & Hosseini, 2016). Notably, the topic
of the eleventh session was titled Gratitude and Thanksgiving.Results supported
previous studies which found that spiritual interventions can be used as a potential
prevention, treatment, and/or coping method for a range of physical problems
including disease, pain, and death (Richards & Bergin, 2005). Findings may hold
implications for athletic populations who are susceptible to injury and adversity,
the combination of spiritual and gratitude elements may complement one another
well in applied interventions.
Kerby (2010) found that when asked to describe the meaning of surng, some
surfers described it as a form of spiritual practice, making several references to the
importance of gratitude in relation to this practice (e.g., giving thanks to the ocean).
This suggests a unique concept that is often connected and intertwined with athlete
spirituality: a sense of gratitude. Researchers have suggested that gratitude may
promote positive emotions such as happiness, which may facilitate ow experiences
(Mosley, Frierson, Cheng, & Aoyagi, 2015;Toepfer, Cichy, & Peters, 2012). Having
a religious background may also promote gratitude practice, thereby cultivating a
more grateful disposition over time. An athlete who identies as religious may have
participated in a faith tradition which placed an emphasis on being thankful for ones
blessings, and in turn may view his or her sport experience as a gift; thereby
promoting humility and minimizing a sense of entitlement. While this scenario is
speculative, more research is needed to tease apart these relationships in order to
understand how spiritual and/or religious beliefs and values may contribute to an
athletes mental health, well-being, and performance through gratitude.
Given that both spirituality/religiosity and gratitude have been associated with
mental health benets, and both constructs have been studied separately in athletic
populations, testing whether these two constructs are related to one another among
athletes warrants further investigation. The relationship between gratitude, spiri-
tuality, and religiosity in sport has not yet been examined, specically among
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college athletes. Further exploration would advance our knowledge of whether
gratitude interventions may be particularly well-suited for spiritual and religious
athletes by illuminating possible connections among these constructs. Since
gratitude, spirituality, and religiosity have been associated with psychological
well-being and enhanced coping skills, having a better understanding of the
interaction of these variables would advance sport psychology interventions
aimed at mental health promotion and treatment efforts at the collegiate level
and beyond.
Purpose of the Study
In light of recent research examining the relationship between gratitude and
spirituality/religiosity in regard to mental health (e.g., Li & Chow, 2015;Rosmarin
et al., 2010;Tudder et al., 2017), as well as a growing charge for empirical
examination of athlete gratitude (e.g., Chen & Chang, 2017;Chen & Wu, 2016;
Chen, Wu, & Chang, 2017) and athlete spirituality (e.g., Amrhein et al., 2016;Egli
et al., 2014;Mosley et al., 2015;Sarkar et al., 2014), we drew from two existing
data sets to examine new variables of interest. Guided by recent developments in
the athlete spirituality, gratitude, and mental health literature, we sought to revisit
these data sets to examine the relationship between spirituality, religiosity, and
dispositional gratitude in conjunction with one another, so as to provide further
insight into this intersection of variables. By investigating possible trends among
empirically related positive psychological constructs within the athletic popula-
tion, we aimed to contribute to the sparse body of literature in sport psychology to
inform and guide future research and applied endeavors related to athlete mental
health and well-being.
The purpose of the current study was to examine the relationship between
athleteslevels of dispositional gratitude and their spiritual and religious identi-
cation, so as to investigate the connection between these constructs within the sport
context. Our focal research question was: Are there group differences in disposi-
tional gratitude among athletes who identify as (1) non-spiritual and non-religious,
(2) spiritual and non-religious, and (3) both spiritual and religious? We hypothe-
sized that athletes who identied as both spiritual and religious would report higher
dispositional gratitude than athletes who identied as solely spiritual or non-
spiritual/non-religious, given their participation in organized services which may
promote a grateful mindset or foster gratitude practice (Adler & Fagley, 2005;
Emmons & Kneezel, 2005;Lambert et al., 2009). We also hypothesized that
athletes who identied as spiritual only would report higher levels of dispositional
gratitude than athletes who identied as non-spiritual and non-religious.
Data Sources
Participant data were taken from two existing data sets (see Gabana et al., 2017,
2019) which included survey responses from NCAA Division I-III collegiate
athletes. Original surveys included a number of variables including state and trait
gratitude, psychological distress, life and sport satisfaction, burnout, and social
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support. For the purpose of the current study, aggregate demographic information
and dispositional gratitude scores were analyzed to examine between-group
differences according to spiritual and religious identication. It should be noted
that in these previous studies, gratitude was found to be positively related to a
number of indicators of student-athlete well-being (e.g., satisfaction, social support)
as well as negatively related to indicators of ill-being (e.g., psychological distress,
burnout). However, while spirituality and religiosity descriptive statistics were
reported in Gabana et al. (2017), between-group differences were not examined in
relation to self-reported dispositional gratitude in either of the previous two studies.
Furthermore, dispositional gratitude data (i.e., GQ-6 scores) were not reported nor
analyzed in Gabana et al. (2019), as the focus of this study was to examine the
effects of a one-time gratitude intervention on state gratitude as indicated by the
Gratitude Adjective Checklist (GAC; McCullough et al., 2002).
Of the original 344 survey responses, three were excluded for missing data and
10 were excluded for what were deemed as incongruent answers on the spirituality
and religiosity measures (see Results for details). This led to a total sample of 331
athletes (203 women and 128 men), ranging from 18 to 23 years of age (M=19.67,
SD =1.24) and of different class years, including freshmen (n=98), sophomores
(n=96), juniors (n=75), seniors (n=60), and graduate students (n=2). The majority
of athletes were Caucasian (87.9%), followed by African American (3.9%), Multi-
racial (3.3%), Asian or Asian-American (2.6%), and Hispanic or Latino/a (2.3%).
The sample included athletes from sixteen dynamic and coactive sports, including
swimming (n=65), wrestling (n=47), rowing (n=47), track and eld (n=36),
softball (n=22), and baseball (n=21). The remaining athletes were from tennis,
water polo, golf, basketball, eld hockey, volleyball, gymnastics, football, soccer,
and ice hockey.
The original surveys contained a demographic questionnaire including age, year in
school, gender, race/ethnicity, spiritual and religious identication, and sport type.
For the aim of the current study, spiritual and religious demographic data were
examined in relation to participant levels of dispositional gratitude.
Spirituality. Spiritual identication was assessed by the question: Do you
consider yourself to be spiritual (e.g., believe in a higher power)?The example
believe in a higher powerwas selected based on previously used denitions of
spirituality (see Egli et al., 2014) and a general theme of a higher powerwhich
emerged in Egli et al.s qualitative analysis of AASP certied consultantsdeni-
tions of spirituality. The main distinction between spiritual and religious identi-
cation in the current study is that spiritual/non-religious athletes checked yesto
being spiritual, dened as believing in a higher power, and noto being religious,
dened as attending services. Spiritual/religious athletes answered yesto both
questions. Non-spiritual/non-religious athletes answered noto both questions.
Religiosity. Religious identication was assessed by the question, Do you
consider yourself to be religious (e.g., attend services)?In a study examining
whether prayer increased dispositional gratitude, Lambert et al. (2009) assessed
religiosity by using two questions which included frequency of attending religious
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services; therefore, attend serviceswas provided as an example of religious
identication. Since practices such as prayer or meditation can be associated with
both spirituality and religiosity (Egli et al., 2014), these were not given as examples
for either identication in order to distinguish the two constructs.
Gratitude. The Gratitude Questionnaire-6 (GQ-6; McCullough et al., 2002)
is a unidimensional 6-item questionnaire ranging from 1 (Strongly disagree) to
7 (Strongly agree) which measures dispositional gratitude. A sample item is I have
so much in life to be thankful for.Unidimensionality was conrmed via a one-
factor congeneric measurement model that was reported to exhibit adequate t to the
data and good initial internal consistency (α=.82). The GQ-6 has been moderately
correlated with life satisfaction (r=.53), vitality (r=.46), happiness (r=.50),
optimism (r=.51), and hope (r=.51; McCullough et al., 2002). In the current
analysis, item six of the GQ-6 demonstrated poor factor loading and was therefore
removed (see Results for details). The alpha for the current sample was .72.
During original data collection following IRB approval, coaches of NCAA
Division I-III teams in the Midwestern, Northeastern, and Southern regions of
the U.S. were contacted via email; this was a convenience sample based on factors
such as accessibility and previous contact with the primary researcher. Coaches
were asked to disseminate a survey link to their student-athletes using a secure
online database. The survey included demographic questions and various variables
of interest, including dispositional gratitude (GQ-6) and spiritual and religious
identication. Coaches and interested athletes were informed of the voluntary
nature of the study. All participants gave informed consent prior to completing the
survey. We note that a second IRB approval was obtained in order to conduct the
current analysis of aggregate data.
In 10 of the original 344 cases, participants endorsed being religious but not
spiritual. Since it is generally understood that religion contains an element of
spirituality (Egli et al., 2014), these cases were deemed outliers and were removed
prior to data analysis. Three additional cases were eliminated due to missing data,
leaving a nal sample of 331 athletes. Participants were then divided between those
who identied as non-spiritual/non-religious (NS; n=53), spiritual but not reli-
gious (S; n=94), and both spiritual and religious (R; n=184). To control for
potential demographic differences in gratitude, multiple one-way ANOVAs were
run with gender, age, class year, race/ethnicity, and sport type. All analyses yielded
non-signicance, suggesting no demographic differences in gratitude on these
variables. Consequently, the whole sample was retained for the main analysis.
Internal consistency of the GQ-6, as measured by Cronbachs alpha, was
questionable (α=.67). This was further conrmed by a Conrmatory Factor
Analysis, which showed poor model t to the data, χ
=39.6, p<.001, CFI =
.89, TLI =.81, RMSEA =.1, and SRMR =.05. Looking at path coefcients, item
six (Long amounts of time can go by before I feel grateful to something or
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someone, reverse scored) showed the lowest loading on the latent variable of
gratitude (β=.29, R
=.08). In a psychometric investigation of various gratitude
scales with a youth population, Froh et al. (2011) suggested dropping this item
due to poor loading and vagueness. Following this suggestion, we adopted a ve-
item version of the measure by removing item six, which demonstrated internal
consistency (α=.72) and improved model t, χ
=19.5, p=.002, CFI =.93, TLI =
.86, RMSEA =.09, and SRMR =.04. We note that the ve-item measure produced
moderately strong Cronbach alpha values, therefore internal consistency and
reliability standards were sufcient, but not ideal. Therefore, ndings should be
interpreted with this caveat in mind.
In order to test the main hypotheses, a one-way ANOVA was employed with
three groups (NS, S, R) and scores on the adapted version of the GQ-6 as the
dependent variable. The assumption of homogeneity of variance was not met, as
shown by Levenes test, F(2, 328) =8.54, p<.001; therefore, we opted for mean
comparison using an unequal variance F-test (also known as Welchs ANOVA).
Results from this analysis revealed that groups differed signicantly in their levels
of dispositional gratitude, F(2, 112.48) =7.82, p=.001. Games-Howell post-hoc
tests employed for group comparisons supported Hypothesis 1, showing signi-
cant differences in gratitude between R (M=33.24, SE =.15) and both NS (p=
.009; M=31.66, SE =.50) and S (p=.01; M=32.35, SE =.26) groups. Speci-
cally, religious athletes reported higher dispositional gratitude than the other two
groups. While dispositional gratitude was higher for spiritual than non-spiritual
athletes, we found no support for Hypothesis 2, as no signicant difference was
found in gratitude between NS and S groups (p=.45; See Figure 1).
The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between athleteslevels
of dispositional gratitude and their spiritual and religious identication. Athlete
participants who identied as spiritual/religious had higher levels of dispositional
gratitude compared to both spiritual/non-religious and non-spiritual/non-religious
athletes. Identifying as spiritual/non-religious, which in this study was characterized
by believing in a higher power but not attending services, did not predict higher
dispositional gratitude when compared to participants who identied as non-spiritual/
non-religious. This nding is concordant with previous research which found
religious involvement to be associated with positive outcomes, such as being at a
lower risk for depressive symptoms and mental health difculties (Smith, 2003), and
other religiously-engendered emotions such as hope, love, forgiveness, and gratitude
(Levin, 2000). Results suggest that there may be something unique about identifying
as religious that is related to higher dispositional gratitude among college athletes,
above and beyond spiritual identication.
Since the key characteristics for religiosity in this study included both believing
in a higher power and attending services, it may be that active religious practice is
most related to increased dispositional gratitude. Gratitude is inherent to many
religious practices, most explicitly notable in the practice of prayer and thanks-
giving (Adler & Fagley, 2005;Emmons & Kneezel, 2005;Lambert et al., 2009). In
this way, it is possible that religious practice may provide more gratitude reps.
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The social aspect of attending services may also be important (i.e., gathering in
worship within a community on a regular basis), as athlete gratitude and the impact
of a gratitude intervention in sport have been connected to greater perceived social
support (Gabana et al., 2017,2019). Since ndings are correlational, athletes who
are higher in dispositional gratitude may also tend to be more attracted to religion
and religious practices.
Practical Implications
The current study aimed to investigate whether athlete spiritual and religious
identication were associated with athlete gratitude, since these three variables
have been linked to indicators of well-being in previous literature. Results provide
useful information for the potential applicability of gratitude interventions in sport,
as well as insight into how an athletes spiritual/religious identity may intersect
with other variables related to mental health and performance. Understanding these
relationships can allow sport psychology practitioners to be more intentional when
considering how and for whom gratitude and faith-based interventions may be
incorporated appropriately within counseling and consultation, as well as the
potential benets of using the two in conjunction with one another (Rosmarin
et al., 2010).
Within the last ten years, greater attention has been paid to the importance of
an athletes spiritual and religious identication in regard to mental health and
performance, given that athletic and spiritual identities are often inextricably linked
(Gamble, Hill, & Parker, 2013;Mosley et al., 2015;Nesti, 2011). Spirituality has
been associated with higher quality of life, as well as lower levels of anxiety and
depression (Kandasamy, Chaturvedi, & Desai, 2011). Furthermore, spiritual
interventions and therapies have demonstrated effectiveness in improving quality
of life and spiritual well-being, preventing and coping with physical ailments, and
treating anxiety, depression, and anger management difculties (Richards &
Bergin, 2005;Richards & Worthington, 2010;Zamaniyan et al., 2016). In this
way, an athletes spiritual/religious beliefs and practices may serve as vital coping
Figure 1 Group means of dispositional gratitude for non-spiritual (NS), spiritual (S),
and religious (R) athletes. Error bars represent one standard error above and below the mean.
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tools during difcult times. Sport psychology practitioners have noted that the
topic of spirituality has been initiated by athletes as a coping mechanism in the face
of adversity (Egli et al., 2014). Previous research has also found that in regard to
depression, religion and spirituality can be both protective factors and recovery
facilitators (Rosmarin et al., 2010). These ndings hold implications for sport
psychology practitioners who are often called upon to address the range of
emotions and psychological reactions of athletes, during both life and sport-related
events such as injury (Appaneal, Levine, Perna, & Roh, 2009). For athletes who
may be spiritually or religiously inclined, capitalizing on faith-based coping may
be a valuable tool for sport psychology practitioners in both counseling and
consulting roles.
Findings of the current study indicate that religious identication was related
to higher trait gratitude; thus, sport psychology researchers and practitioners
might similarly nd that athletes who identify as religious are more likely to
experience gratitude in the sport domain as well. This grateful mindset may lend
itself to better mental health, well-being, and social relationships in the context of
sport, providing a unique and possibly untapped coping mechanism for religious
athletes. Since religion and spirituality can provide individuals with greater
psychological resilience and serve as a protective factor against stressors and
negative life events (Peres, Moreira-Almedia, Nasello & Koenig, 2007), religi-
osity and/or spirituality might be positively related to resilience among athletes;
furthermore, this association might be mediated by higher levels of gratitude
(Mosley et al., 2015). Thus, clinicians working with athletes are encouraged to
both ask about and explore an athletes spiritual and religious identity during the
clinical intake, the same way one would assess topics such as gender identity,
sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or family background from a multi-
cultural approach. Regarding the performer as a person rst, with a multifaceted
identity, can aid practitioners in gathering vital information related to the
athletes disposition and worldview (e.g., having a propensity toward gratitude;
attributing success to a Creator; directing appreciation toward God). Paying due
attention to these associations may enhance the therapeutic alliance and provide
clinicians with starting points for discussion and interventions, such as gratitude
Results show signicant group differences in dispositional gratitude among
spiritual, religious, and non-religious athletes, which demonstrates the importance
of examining these variables in relation to one another. Demographic and group
characteristics can inform the knowledge and design of clinical sport psychology
interventions to promote athlete mental health and well-being. Religiosity and
spirituality may exert a protective effect on athletesmental health (Amrhein et al.,
2016); therefore, sport psychology practitioners may consider developing and
evaluating spiritually- or religiously-based individual interventions for athletes
who identify as such. This could include spiritual self-talk (e.g., reecting on
positive messages from a sacred text during a pre-performance routine) or
thanking God or a higher power for both achievements and challenges during
a post-performance reection. Meaning-making from a spiritual or religious
perspective might also be used to help athletes process particularly difcult
experiences such as the loss of a loved one, injury, or transition to a new team. It
should be noted that these approaches should not be imposed on athletes, but
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rather explored gently and directed by the athletes level of spiritual or religious
identication (i.e., client-driven).
Given the connection between religiosity and gratitude, sport psychology
practitioners may help athletes utilize their religious practice as a way to cultivate
gratitude, which may hold sport-related benets for mental health and well-being.
In a qualitative study by Mosley et al. (2015), researchers explored the experiences
of ve elite Christian athletes. All ve athlete participants expressed the sentiment
that their talents and abilities in sport were gifted by God. One participant
commented on how his faith in God allowed him to stay humble (Mosley
et al., 2015). Humility is often associated with gratitude, and may be an important
component of levelheadedness. Austin (2014) purported that humility is inherent
in the virtues of sportspersonship, moral behavior in sport, and sport excellence.
This is in congruence with McCullough, Kilpatrick, Emmons, and Larson (2001)
who proposed that gratitude serves as a moral barometerwhich promotes
prosocial behavior. Therefore, prayerful gratitude may be one way to increase
humility, promote virtue, derive meaning, and maintain perspective among
religiously-identied athletes. Mosley et al. (2015) noted that each athlete inter-
viewed in their study endorsed a grateful attitude toward their sport participation,
referring to it as a privilegeafforded by God. Mosley and colleagues connected
this grateful mindset to resiliency, and thus recommended that sport psychology
practitioners consider approaches that foster grateful thinking among Christian
athletes. Values-based interventions in which athletes identify Gods Willor
Gratitudeas core values might also be opportune moments for sport psychology
practitioners to capitalize on these types of discussions.
Based on the benets of gratitude for athletes (e.g., Chen & Chang, 2017),
clinicians and consultants might consider implementing interventions that encour-
age gratitude cultivation and expression, which have demonstrated promising
preliminary results in reducing athlete burnout and psychological distress, and
enhancing gratitude, sport satisfaction, and perceived social support (Gabana et al.,
2019). For example, a gratitude intervention may be well-received by a team on
which the majority of student-athletes identify as religious or spiritual, such as at a
religiously afliated university where team prayer may already be practiced. That
being said, sport psychology practitioners should be mindful that non-spiritual or
non-religious athletes may feel uncomfortable with existing faith-based elements
within team practices or routines; therefore, it behooves practitioners to thoroughly
assess for and appropriately implement faith-based components into interventions
with awareness and sensitivity to a range of cultural backgrounds. Providing faith-
based elements as an option, included among a range of adaptions, is suggested to
best serve diverse populations.
Lastly, athletes from non-religious backgrounds might benet, in particular,
from gratitude interventions to boost levels of dispositional gratitude. When
working individually with athletes, sport psychology practitioners might consider
tailoring their gratitude interventions to account for the athletes religious or non-
religious orientation. Non-religious athletes could be encouraged to reect on how
other people (e.g., coaches and teammates) have contributed to their athletic
success, whereas religious athletes from a theistic background might benet from
thanking God for their athletic abilities and opportunities. In a study comparing the
impact of general and religious gratitude, gratitude toward God uniquely predicted
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well-being beyond general gratitude (Rosmarin, Pirutinsky, Cohen, Galler, &
Krumrei, 2011). This suggests that the interaction between religious gratitude and
religious commitment can enhance the psychological benets of gratitude. It seems
possible that for athletes with high religious commitment, cultivating gratitude
toward God within the sport context may maximize effects of gratitude interven-
tions on mental health, well-being, and performance.
Strengths and Limitations
A strength of the current study is that we explored the intersection of positive
psychology constructs previously related in empirical studies, with an athlete-
specic population. The purpose of our study was to investigate whether the
relationships among gratitude, spirituality, and religiosity have relevance in the
unique athletic context, informing the body of literature on athlete mental health
and the applicability of positive psychological interventions in sport. Our ndings
indicate that athletesreligious and spiritual identication were indeed signicant
factors associated with having a more grateful disposition among college athletes.
Furthermore, over half of the sample self-identied as both spiritual and religious,
and nearly a third identied as spiritual only. This nding alone demonstrates the
need for a deeper understanding of how an athletes spiritual and/or religious
identity intersects with their experience in both sport and life. Results provide a
small step forward in regard to understanding the various demographic variables
that should be considered when designing gratitude interventions for individual
athletes and teams. While this was a novel endeavor given the paucity of research
in this area, our study has a number of limitations which should be addressed in
future investigations of athlete spirituality, religiosity, and gratitude.
Major limitations of the current study include lack of data on participants
specic religious afliation and the homogeneity of the sample (88% of partici-
pants were Caucasian, all residing in the U.S.). In the future, more information
should be gathered to compare possible similarities or differences among faith
traditions and demographic factors in regard to dispositional gratitude and athlete
well-being. Since gratitude is emphasized as a prominent virtue in a variety of
religious traditions including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism,
and Native American religions (Emmons & Crumpler, 2000;Emmons & Kneezel,
2005;Wood, Joseph, & Linley, 2007), the relationship between gratitude and
religiosity might be similar regardless of faith tradition. Alternatively, it is possible
that the positive link between religiosity and gratitude might exist only for athletes
with a theistic religion (e.g., Christians, Jews, Muslims) because of a belief that
God or a Higher Power is the source of their success (Mosley et al., 2015),
thus fostering a sense of gratitude toward a supernatural being. Future research
should include athletes from diverse religious afliations, including those with
non-theistic religions (e.g., Buddhism). Another limitation is that spiritual and
religious identication were measured by two yesor noitems using a valid yet
limited denition of these terms. In addition to gathering data about religious
afliation, future studies should consider using empirically validated measures of
spirituality and religiosity, given that the current focused solely on identication as
spiritual and religious as believing in a higher powerand attending services,
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Future Directions
In the future, it would be interesting to explore the relationship between athlete
religiosity and sport-specic gratitude on a larger scale. While cultural constructs
such as race, gender, and sexual orientation have been brought to light in the past
decade of sport psychology literature, the spiritual aspect of an athletescultural
identity has not been paid the same attention (Egli et al., 2014;Nesti, 2007). Egli and
colleagues (2014) asserted that culture is an integral part of being able to understand
oneself and others(p. 396), therefore it is imperative that sport psychology
practitioners and researchers consider how spirituality and religiosity intersect
with an athletes identity, in relation to both personal and performance excellence.
We also recommend the use of continuous measures of spirituality and religiosity
when examining the link to gratitude. One example is the Religious Commitment
Inventory-10 (Worthington et al., 2003), a brief measure of religious commitment
with well-established psychometric properties. Given that religiosity and spirituality
are multidimensional constructs, researchers should state the specicreligiousor
spiritual construct used in their study (e.g., religious commitment). Indeed, it is
possible that some dimensions of religiosity and spirituality (e.g., prayers) might be
more closely related to gratitude than others (e.g., attendance at religious services).
Furthermore, cultural factors such as race, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic
status may be related to an athletes religious or spiritual identity, as well as their
tendency to be grateful. For example, athletes from an Eastern culture, which tends
to be more collectivistic, may value and practice gratitude more than a Western
culture, which emphasizes individualism (Kee, Tsai, & Chen, 2008).
Lastly, qualitative methods exploring the depth and breadth of an athletes
religious and spiritual identity, especially related to their culture, faith, and
experience of gratitude, may provide insight into the intersection of these cultural
constructs. Allowing participants to provide their own denitions of spirituality
and religiosity could further illuminate this area. Beyond self-report measures, the
link between faith and gratitude could be tested by analyzing news reports of post-
game interviews, in regard to athletesreferences to God or faith-related constructs.
In line with our ndings, athletes who identify as religious might be more likely to
express gratitude during their interviews than those who do not, providing insight
into how religiosity and gratitude may intertwine to help athletes cope with a tough
loss, or maintain perspective after a big win.
Many have called for the inclusion of spirituality in a holistic approach to sport
psychology (e.g., Balague, 1999;Mosley et al., 2015;Ravizza, 2002;Watson &
Nesti, 2005). A holistic approach to athlete mental health and well-being regards
the performer as a whole person, with a multifaceted identity. For many athletes,
spiritual and/or religious identication is a salient part of their personhood (Mosley
et al., 2015), and thus becomes an inherent part of their identity as an athlete. As
demonstrated by the results of the current study, an athletes faith perspective can
intersect with factors related to mental health (e.g., gratitude), which may also
inuence the athletes attitude toward sport participation, competition, relation-
ships, and adversity. Thus, the spiritual aspect of an athletes identity should not be
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overlooked, and more research is needed to understand the spiritual dimension of
the athlete person and how this may interact with ones mental, physical, and
relational experience in sport.
Since spiritual and religious beliefs are unique to each individual, sport
psychology practitioners should afford sufcient consideration to exploring and
integrating an athletes faith within the counseling and consultation process, when
appropriate. Incorporating spirituality and/or religiosity into clinical sport psychology
should be athlete-driven and practitioners should use an athletes own language
when discussing matters of faith (Egli et al., 2014). Egli and colleagues noted that
discussions of spirituality, religiosity, and faith may be particularly applicable in
coping with adversity; therefore, more empirical studies are warranted to test the
potential effects of faith-based approaches to sport psychology counseling and
consultation. While gratitude may also be incorporated with faith-based interventions
(e.g., prayer, meaning-making, values) as a way to develop or reinforce a grateful
mindset, it should be noted that the relationship between gratitude, spirituality, and
religiosity is far more complex than what is suggested by the correlational results of
the present study. In conclusion, future research should explore the mechanisms by
which gratitude, spirituality, and religiosity relate to one another, as well as the
relevance of these concepts for athlete mental health, well-being, and performance.
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... We conceptualize norm conflict in terms of perceived discrepancies in how much social issues (such as welcoming refugees or supporting women's rights) are perceived to be supported by members of the faith, compared to how much they should be supported. The present research explores the impact of perceived norm conflict in relation to three separate possible religious coping strategies: (a) engaging in normative ritual practices such as prayer and worship (Gabana et al., 2020); (b) challenging the religious norms or seeking to change them (Minwalla et al., 2005); and (c) affirming that the conflict is occurring on peripheral issues that are less important to the faith, while core religious norms are intact (Sani, 2005;Sani & Reicher, 2000;Sani & Todman, 2002). Furthermore, the potential protective role of these strategies is explored in buffering the harmful impact of norm conflict on identification and well-being. ...
... The social identity approach proposes that stronger identification motivates group members to endorse and enact their group's norms (Terry & Hogg, 1999), and that endorsing and acting out norms also makes people feel more strongly identified as group members (Drury & Reicher, 2005Reicher & Drury, 2011;Vestergren et al., 2018). For example, an individual may be motivated by religious identification to pray, and through prayer, their religious identification may grow stronger (Gabana et al., 2020;Greenfield & Marks, 2007;Kim et al., 2015). A commitment to engaging in normative practices is one means, therefore, by which a person may bolster a group identity that is under threat. ...
... The first, engaging in prayer and other normative practices, represents a rededication to faith although it does not directly address the norm conflict. Engaging in normative ritual practice was expected to be associated with participants' sustained identification, as seen in previous research (e.g., Gabana et al, 2020;Greenfield & Marks, 2007;Kim et al., 2015). In the present research, it was also predicted that whereas normative conflict would be associated with lower well-being, enacting ritual practice would be associated with higher well-being. ...
... In a review study, it has been determined that spiritual vitality in athletes has caused the hard work and resilience of these people (Hutch, 2012). In addition, another study has shown that athletes with higher spirituality (regardless of any type of religion) experience less fear of failure and anxiety during the competition (Gabana et al., 2019). In a narrative study, Miller (2008) has also determined that the dimensions of spiritual vitality in sports are very wide, and sports champions experience more success by using spirituality strategies and have a higher sense of psychological security in their teams. ...
Background: The literature in sports psychology showed that a decrease in the feeling of psychological security probably caused a decrease in success and thus caused fear and anxiety. As a result, sports psychologists have focused on training programs to overcome the reduction in feelings of psychological security and fear. Aims: The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effect of spiritual vitality training program and evaluation on fear of failure and psychological security of athletes. Methods: In this quasi-experimental study with a pre-test-post-test research design, 46 female athletes were selected by voluntary participation, and randomly divided into two groups of spiritual vitality and control training programs. Participants completed pre-test and post-test questionnaires of psychological security (Edmondson, 1999) and fear of failure (Conory et al, 2002). The intervention phase was performed in 28 one-hour sessions. This protocol was a combination of the protocol of spiritual vitality (eight sessions), consciousness in the moment (ten sessions) and acceptance and awareness (ten sessions) (Mehry Varnayeb, 2017). During this time, the participants in the control group engaged in their daily activities. Data were analyzed by multivariate and univariate analysis of covariance. Results: The results of multivariate analysis of covariance showed that spiritual vitality training program has a significant effect on reducing the fear of failure (ie, decreased self-esteem, fear of having an unknown future, fear of upsetting important people, fear of experiencing shame and fear of losing Giving interest to important people (athletes) (P
... Both spirituality and religion have been consistently positively correlated with gratitude and have been linked to higher levels of dispositional (trait) gratitude (Emmons & Kneezel, 2005). While the intersection of spirituality, religion, and gratitude has been examined in the general literature, these relationships are just beginning to be explored among athlete samples (Gabana, D'Addario, Luzzeri, & Soendergaard, 2020). Understanding cultural and demographic variables that may be related to an athlete's disposition or response to treatment (e.g., gratitude interventions) can aid sport psychology practitioners in expanding their view of both an athlete's identity and their own clinical repertoire. ...
Full-text available
A holistic, multicultural approach to student-athlete mental health, well-being, and performance promotes the consideration of spiritual and religious identities in counseling and consultation. Preliminary research supports the interconnectedness of spirituality, religiosity, and gratitude in athletes; thus, this study sought to replicate Gabana, D’Addario, Luzzeri, and Soendergaard's study (2020) and extend the literature by examining a larger, independently sampled, more diverse data set and multiple types of gratitude. National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I–III student-athletes ( N = 596) were surveyed to better understand how religious and spiritual identity related to trait, general-state, and sport-state gratitude. Results supported past research; athletes who self-identified as being both spiritual and religious reported greater dispositional (trait) gratitude than those who self-identified as spiritual/nonreligious or nonspiritual/nonreligious. Between group differences were not found when comparing general-state and sport-state gratitude. Findings strengthen and extend the understanding of spirituality, religion, and gratitude in sport. Limitations, practical implications, and future directions are discussed.
Full-text available
Gratitude is conceptualized as a moral affect that is analogous to other moral emotions such as empathy and guilt. Gratitude has 3 functions that can be conceptualized as morally relevant: (a) a moral barometer function (i.e., it is a response to the perception that one has been the beneficiary of another person's moral actions); (b) a moral motive function (i.e., it motivates the grateful person to behave prosocially toward the benefactor and other people); and (c) a moral reinforcer function (i.e., when expressed, it encourages benefactors to behave morally in the future). The personality and social factors that are associated with gratitude are also consistent with a conceptualization of gratitude as an affect that is relevant to people's cognitions and behaviors in the moral domain.
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Current trends in the United States indicate an increase in sedentary behaviors, obesity, stress and poor diet, contributing to heightened rates of chronic illness and mortality. These trends illustrate a need for prioritizing prevention and wellness promotion, and conceptualizing health as a multidimensional construct. The exercise and fitness industry is uniquely positioned to support individuals in establishing healthy lifestyle trends that address multiple domains of wellness. This research study utilized health and fitness professional survey data to assess relationships between the frequency of addressing each of the five primary domains of wellness (physical, social, emotional, intellectual and spiritual), and a number of demographic variables. Relationships between the frequency of addressing domains of wellness and all demographic variables (e.g. physical wellness by industry role) were examined using Pearson Chi Square Tests of Independence. Results indicate differences in the frequency that unique dimensions of wellness were addressed with clients, as well as differences based on industry role and gender. Implications are discussed, including challenges associated with a consensus organizational definition of wellness, and variability in training and education requirements of fitness professionals, that may impact the promotion of wellness domains beyond the traditional physical focus.
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This study explored the implementation of a 90-minute “Attitude of Gratitude” workshop among 51 NCAA Division I student-athletes. Levels of state gratitude, psychological distress, life satisfaction, sport satisfaction, athlete burnout, and perceived available support in sport were measured the week before, immediately after, and 4-weeks post-intervention. Significant increases in well-being (state gratitude, sport satisfaction, social support) and significant decreases in ill-being (psychological distress, athlete burnout) were observed post-intervention. Results of this pilot study warrant further exploration of gratitude interventions in applied sport psychology. Limitations, practical implications, and recommendations for future research are discussed in light of the current findings.
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In four studies, the authors examined the correlates of the disposition toward gratitude. Study 1 revealed that self-ratings and observer ratings of the grateful disposition are associated with positive affect and well-being prosocial behaviors and traits, and religiousness/spirituality. Study 2 replicated these findings in a large nonstudent sample. Study 3 yielded similar results to Studies 1 and 2 and provided evidence that gratitude is negatively associated with envy and materialistic attitudes. Study 4 yielded evidence that these associations persist after controlling for Extraversion/positive affectivity, Neuroticism/negative affectivity, and Agreeableness. The development of the Gratitude Questionnaire, a unidimensional measure with good psychometric properties, is also described.
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The present study explored the relationships among gratitude, sport satisfaction, athlete burnout, and perceived social support among college student-athletes in the United States. Participants (N = 293) from 16 different types of sports at 8 NCAA Division I and III institutions were surveyed. Results indicated gratitude was negatively correlated with burnout and positively correlated with sport satisfaction, suggesting that athletes who reported more general gratitude also experienced lower levels of burnout and greater levels of satisfaction with their college sport experience. Perceived social support was found to be a mediator in both relationships. Limitations and implications for research and practice are discussed.
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Life satisfaction is a critical index of well-being and is well documented in the literature as a means of protecting athletes from stress. However, minimal research has focused on the factors that contribute to life satisfaction in sports. Accordingly, we adopted the positive psychology perspective and proposed that gratitude would relate to athletes’ life satisfaction. Additionally, we further suggested that mindfulness would strengthen the relationship between gratitude and athletes’ life satisfaction. Athletes completed measurements, and the results, which indicated that athletes with higher levels of gratitude exhibited increased life satisfaction when they had higher levels of mindfulness, supported our expectations. The implications and applications are discussed in terms of mindfulness.
Anxiety and depression are common responses to trauma and bereavement. However, gratitude and spirituality may be helpful to individuals experiencing anxiety and depression in response to a loss, and therefore empirical investigation into the links between these variables is warranted. This study investigated the relationships between gratitude, spiritual/ religious variables, anxiety and depression across multiple religious groups. Two independent samples consisting of n = 120 Christians (Catholic, Mainline Protestant, Evangelical Protestant and Morman) and n = 234 Jews (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Other) were recruited. Measures of gratitude, general religiousness, religious practices, and positive core beliefs about God (trust in God) were administered alongside measures of trait anxiety and depression. Statistically significant correlations emerged between all variables, suggesting that gratitude and spirituality are protective factors against anxiety and depression.
This study examined two cognitive correlates of state gratitude, namely, positive benefit appraisals (positive attributions regarding help received from others) and positive reframing (viewing an experience previously perceived as negative in a more positive light) among male prison inmates. Both positive benefit appraisals and positive reframing uniquely predicted state gratitude 4 weeks later. Moreover, a multiple mediation model revealed that positive benefit appraisals and positive reframing were both indirectly associated with reduced psychological distress via their relations with state gratitude. These findings are discussed in light of how gratitude can be cultivated among individuals, particularly among prison inmates.
The current study conducted two independent studies to examine whether sport-domain gratitude would account for increased explained variance in athlete well-being indicators after controlling for the general gratitude. Study 1 recruited 167 U.S. athletes and found sport-domain gratitude significantly accounted for increased explained variance in athletes burnout and team satisfaction when general gratitude was controlled. To cross-validate and advance Study 1, Study 2 recruited 290 Taiwan adolescent athletes with time lagged design. Results were consistent with Study 1 which supported its generalizability across countries and age. The implications and applications are discussed in terms of contextualized interpretation of gratitude.
Although research on the psychological correlates of ocean surfing is scarce, substantial anecdotal evidence suggests that the sport offers a uniquely positive experience. Prior research has demonstrated that surfers report fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety than normative groups, but no explanation has been identified. Greater spirituality has been correlated with lower depression and anxiety, and many surfers have described surfing as a spiritual experience, indicating a potential connection. One hundred surfers were recruited from the Hawaiian Islands and the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. Participants reported their surfing habits and levels of their spiritual surfing experiences. Standardized tests were used to measure participants’ spirituality, depression, and anxiety levels. Results indicated that surfers reported fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety than most available normative groups. Results also demonstrated that greater spirituality is associated with less depression and more spiritual surfing experiences.