Intrinsic Spirituality has been linked to lower rates of depression and anxiety and higher positive mental functioning (Pargament, Exline & Jones, 2013). This may be due in part to beliefs which foster values that are important to positive outlook, such as faith, forgiveness, humility, love and community. It is also possible for strongly religious individuals to have maladaptive beliefs that may be problematic for their happiness and adjustment. Understanding how beliefs influence mental health can be helpful to therapists; particularly to those who deal with religious clients who are heavily influenced by their spiritual beliefs. This study looks at the important religious concepts of grace and legalism to identify how they interact with intrinsic spirituality to influence five different positive psychology measures: gratitude, self-esteem, meaning in life, satisfaction with life and optimism. Roughly 560 students from a religious university participated in a self-report survey looking at various spirituality and mental health measurements. Structural Equation Modeling was used to determine if experiencing grace or legalistic beliefs mediated the relationship between spirituality and each of five “life outlook” measures. Moderator analysis was used to identify any interaction effects of grace and legalism on the life outlook variables. Intrinsic spirituality was predictive of belief in grace and negatively predictive of belief in legalism. Belief in grace was also predictive of all five positive mental health measures, and legalism was negatively predictive of gratitude. Interestingly, grace-legalism interaction effects were found for self-esteem, gratitude and satisfaction. Gender differences were significant. Implications for therapy and directions for future research are discussed.



College and Department

David O. McKay School of Education; Counseling Psychology and Special Education



Date Submitted


Document Type





spirituality, grace, legalism, self-esteem, satisfaction, optimism, gratitude



Included in

Counseling Commons