What is the Human Spirit?

What is the human spirit exactly? E.E. Cummings once wrote, “Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” Ronald Reagan said, "There are no constraints on the human mind, no walls around the human spirit, no barriers to our progress except those we ourselves erect.” Yakov Smirnoff said, “It's kind of bittersweet. The human spirit is not measured by the size of the act, but by the size of the heart.” What do we understand human spirit to be?

For a long time spiritual issues have been relegated to philosophy and theology. It wasn’t scientific because it wasn’t dealing with the material. Spirituality was typically discussed in the context of individual’s religious beliefs and practices. Clearly, humans have an idea that there is something that makes up who we are as beings. We refer to this notion of human spirit, but do we really stop to think about what it is and its implications?

Do we really stop to think about what the human spirit really is and its implications?

What is the human spirit? The vital principle that gives life

Merriam-Webster’s answer to the question what is the human spirit includes two connotations that we want to explore. First, they say, spirit is “an immaterial force within a human being thought to give the body life, energy, and power.” Their second definition says spirit is “a state of mind dominated by a particular emotion.”

If we look at the etymology of the word, we will see that in Greek the root is psycho, which means “I breathe.” The Hebrew root is ruách, meaning a “wind” or “breath.” In the basic theology of the Jew and Christian, the answer to the question what is the human spirit connects it directly to God, the breath of God to be exact. “Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being,” indicating the spirit lies in the breath.

In Buddhism breath is deeply connected to their spiritual practices. Breath and meditation go hand in hand. Even in ancient Christian practices the chants of monks are connected to breath or breathing. Breath control is connected to prayer and meditation and connecting with or “developing” the human spirit. Whether it was God’s breath that gave human’s life or not, breath and life are synonymous. It goes beyond the purely biological need for oxygen and carbon dioxide. It is connected to both the “immaterial force within a human being thought to give the body life, energy, and power,” and “a state of mind dominated by a particular emotion.” Your breath is intricately connected to each. Mastering your breathing is a step in the process of mastering your mindset or being a master of your spirit.

What is the human spirit? That what powers the soul

One view that answers the question what is the human spirit is it is “that what empowers the soul.” The power behind our soul or our human spirit are what I refer to as the four Vs – vitality, values, vision, and veritas or what we believe to be true.

Vitality is our personal energy. It is in part what we call charisma, which tends to be energy driven. Do you know anyone who has charisma who you would say doesn’t have vitality? Clearly, some people have much more bubbly and energetic personality than others. That is vitality.

What we value drives our actions and are deeply connected to our personality or our “state of mind that is dominated by a particular emotion.” Values do help create different emotional experiences, especially when they are in conflict. Also, values often are emotions – love, joy, happiness and the like. These emotions and values play a significant role in what people would describe as our spirit.

Our vision refers here to our worldview. How do we view the world, human nature, and human interactions. What do we believe to be true, especially in regard to four important questions – what is the origin of humans, what is the purpose of life, what is the origin of human morality, and what happens when we die. The answers to these questions shape our vision or our worldview. It shapes what would make up our spirit.

Finally, what we believe to be true, especially about ourselves will shape our spirit. It will be part of that answer to the question of what is the human spirit as our beliefs will great shape it. We will act in accordance to what we believe to be true even if it is not true. A broken spirit is likely the result of coming to believe negative “truths” about ourselves. A resilient spirit would be one that fights and ultimately rejects these lies being told to them about themselves. We can learn to control or shape most if not all of those components of our personality. That is the basis behind being able to be master of your mindset.

A broken spirit is likely the result of coming to believe lies about ourselves and our capabilities while a resilient spirit would one that fights against these lies and rejects them.

What is the human spirit? Human personality

What is our human spirit in at is most basic form? Our spirit is the essence of who we are as individual human beings. We are unique. Our uniqueness is our spirit which is biological and psychological and spiritual with the spiritual being how the biological and psychological playout in the creation of our over-arching mindset, which is the behavioral driver of our human spirit.

When we ask what is the human spirit, we are really asking what is it that creates the essence of the a person’s personality. Introductory psychology will typically discuss Sigmund Freud’s view, which was based on the belief that we had no free will, and the humanistic psychological view which was based on the notion we do have free will. The Freudian approach or the psychodynamic approach is an approach to understanding human behavior that focuses on the role of unconscious thoughts, feelings, and memories.

Theories of humanistic psychologists developed an approach to the study of human personality that embraced the notions of self-esteem, self-actualization, and free will. Humanistic psychologists were most concerned with understanding the underlying motivations they surmised drove an individual’s personality. Their focus was on an individual’s self-concept or the set of beliefs about who we are, and an individual’s self-esteem, which is the collection of positive feelings we have about ourself.

Freud’s theories have for the most part failed to pass the test of empiricism, and have thereby become replaced by more empirically supported theories. Humanistic psychology has primarily supplanted Freudian psychology in part because of its more positive view of the human spirit. Carl Rogers, one of the leading voices in humanistic psychology, believed that humans were primarily moral beings. One of the critiques of that view is it can’t explain the origin of evil. If we are primarily moral beings and evil exists – which it does – where does evil come from. Rogers has been quoted as saying it comes from corrupt cultures, which simply displaces the problem. How does a culture become corrupt if humans are innately moral beings?

Answering our question, what is the human spirit, requires then for us to look at what appears to be some common truths between the two primary theories of personality. First, our unconscious thoughts, feelings, and memories most definitely do impact our personality and our spirit. Carl Jung, who was a protégé of Freud developed archetype theories of personality which later influenced the Myers-Briggs personality assessments. The Myers-Briggs has come under scrutiny because it lacks the scientific evidence some researchers would expect it to have given its long history of use.

These theories relate to what develops in our unconscious mind that drive our personality. Even Humanistic psychology deals with “the set of beliefs about who we are, and an individual’s self-esteem, which is the collection of positive feelings we have about ourself.” In other words humanistic psychology also addresses unconscious beliefs and emotions that impact our personality.

It stands to reason then if we can alter the beliefs, values, emotions, and memories that drive our personality we can change our personality. When someone experiences a deeply religious or spiritual transformation most people would acknowledge they are not the same person as they were before that dramatic experience. While I am alluding in that example to positive experiences, they can be negative experiences.

A deeply disturbing experience can also change someone’s spirit or personality. They can develop that broken spirit that changes someone for the worse. Knowing experiences can change personality and our spirit, we should be curious on how we can care for the human spirit. Knowing the answer to the question what is the human spirit, allows us to be better care-takers of it.

Please consider joining our private Facebook group: Mastering Your Growth Mindset

Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how ... Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it? Click on the HTML link code below. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.

var l = window.location.href, d = document; document.write ('<form action = "#"> <div style = "text-align: center"> <textarea cols = "50" rows = "2" onclick = "this.select ();"> <a href = "'+ l +'"> '+ d.title +' </a> </textarea> </div> </form> ');

Privacy Policy