IF YOU want to irk an atheist, tell them you are "spiritual but not religious". They will no doubt conclude that you practise yoga and own a pack of angel cards. They will also conclude, but probably not articulate, that you are an idiot. Are spiritual people happier? Well, ignorance is bliss, so those of an atheistic inclination would say of course we are. Case closed.
I, however, don't believe that spiritual people are labouring under the God delusion, or seeking solace from the seeming randomness of life.
On the contrary, it takes a big person to go in search of the answers and question the things that you Just Don't Talk About. It would be a lot easier to conclude that you are born and then you die. At least people wouldn't think you were a lunatic.
It's important to ascertain what one means by God, religion and spirituality before you can ask if the belief in such can make you happier.
Some people sneer at the 'God' word and the fact that you subscribe to the 'big, bearded man in the sky' theory.
Only, I don't know anyone who believes in a big man in the sky or, indeed, a great fire and brimstone overseer.
The 'man in the sky' construct is how you explain God to children to make it easier for them to understand. So to argue that there is no God within those constructs, well, it's akin to declaring that the letter A is in fact not an apple and the letter Z is not a zebra.
God is love and energy and the belief that we are all unconsciously connected. You don't need a priest, or a minister or a rabbi to get closer to him. You don't have to sacrifice life's little enjoyments to please him. God is free and open to everyone.
They say religion is for people who fear going to hell while spirituality is for people who have already been there. We've seen the devastation caused by organised religion in this country, but it's a shame that its association with God-- or rather the religious understanding of God -- has many baulking at the very word.
So what defines a spiritual person? Well, you could say that they aren't content to live a life of unknowing. You could describe spiritual pursuits as 'man's search for meaning'.
A leap of faith, then? No. Many spiritual people have sufficient evidence, perhaps from seeing miracles performed or from speaking to those who have experienced the white light and 'life review' of near death, to put their faith in a higher power.
In the same way that you read the results of almost every scientific study and think 'well, we all knew that already', spiritual people just know, without the need for tangible proof, that there is more.
And, of course, that is comforting. Psychotherapists say that beneath all the layers, the fear of death is our fundamental affliction. Spiritual people have conquered that because they believe that there is no beginning or end.
And because they see the perpetuity of existence, they see life more as a journey. Where others see chaos, they see order. In the grand scheme of things, they know that there is no such thing as good luck or bad luck because we don't know where either circumstance will eventually lead. Just ask all the Lotto winners who say they wish they had never won...
While others say "just my luck" and bemoan "those days" -- spiritual people are more inclined to say "everything happens for a reason" and "if it's for you, it won't pass you". They see possibilities rather than problems. To quote my favourite saying, they: "Let go and let God".
It's wrong to associate spirituality with morality. We all have a moral compass, irrespective of our beliefs. But I believe that spiritual people try harder to practise understanding, tolerance and forgiveness. Ultimately, that brings happiness.
And their relationships flourish as a result. I have to admit that I would find romantic relationships fairly depressing if I wasn't a spiritual person.
The only explanation I would have for choosing my partner is science. "Your immune system completes me. I can't live without your pheromones. Let's continue the species forever together, baby."
Is it possible to believe in love at first sight -- the moment when you look into someone's eyes and see their beginning, middle and end -- and not believe in a higher power? I don't think it is.
True love -- not the co-dependent, fear-based attachments that make up the majority of couplings -- is sacred. Again, there is a comfort in believing that you are soulmates rather than just breeding mates.
And just as you can look into someone's eyes and know instinctively that you have a deep connection with them, I think you can look at someone and tell if they are spiritual or atheistic... and not just because they are carrying a yoga mat.
Rather, they aren't carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. Their eyes are more open, as though a gentle breeze is passing through them. They are at peace and you can't get much happier than that.