Why You Should Believe in Something Bigger Than Yourself

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Stillness Is the Key" by Ryan Holiday. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you believe in something bigger than yourself? How does belief in a higher power contribute to your psychological well-being?

Studies have shown that those who believe in some kind of a higher power tend to be happier and less depressed and anxious than those who don’t. When you believe in a higher power—whether divine or secular—it gives you a feeling of control and a sense that life is inherently meaningful.

Here’s why we need to believe in something greater than ourselves, according to Ryan Holiday.

The Power of Belief

Without a belief in a higher power, life is meaningless. You can think of this as God, a universal energy, or any kind of higher power. According to Ryan Holiday, if you believe in something bigger than yourself, you benefit it three ways:

  1. You believe that things are being taken care of on a grander scale. Holiday says putting ourselves at the center of the universe is egotistical, and believing only in the material world leads to nihilism, fragility, and depression. When you remember that there is a higher power and a higher purpose or guiding force in life, you can relax and feel at peace. Putting yourself in perspective of the vastness of the universe can quiet your mind and allow for stillness. 
  2. You have a sense of oneness with everything. When you recognize the interconnectedness of all of humanity and all of life—past, present and future—you feel that you’re one with your ancestors and with all of the living world. This kind of connectedness encourages humility and empathy, which lead to forgiveness and understanding. 
  3. You’re empowered to accept death without fear. Don’t try to escape death, Holiday says. Knowing how to live well also teaches you how to die well. We spend so much of our life in fear or denial of death instead of living life to the fullest. Remember, your life will end in permanent stillness, so practice it in preparation. 
Connecting to Something Greater for Atheists

If you’re someone who believes in God, Holiday’s advice in this section is likely straightforward and easily applied. But how does someone who doesn’t believe in any “higher power” connect to something greater than themselves? If that’s the case for you, you might think about the scientific concept of “energy” as equivalent to the concept of “spirit” and contemplate the fact that everything in the universe is actually made of energy.

Quantum physics has revealed that even the solid matter that makes up you and everything around you is really energy at its core. And on that smallest level, there is quite literally no separation between anything.

This might not give you the sense that something greater is “in control” but it certainly points out that you are interconnected with everything in the vast universe. And the law of conservation of energy tells us that energy can never be created or destroyed; it can only be transformed. This means that all of the energy that comprises you will exist in some form even after death. 
Why You Should Believe in Something Bigger Than Yourself

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Here's what you'll find in our full Stillness Is the Key summary:

  • Why stillness is not just the absence of motion
  • How to cultivate stillness in your mind, body, and soul
  • Why you should start ignoring the news

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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