Your beliefs may be religious or not, spiritual or not, strong or weak, constant for life or continuing to evolve – but however they are characterized, they either deeply affect all other areas of your life, or they miss the opportunity to have that impact. Either way, what you believe in and how you believe make a huge difference.
We’re not out to change your beliefs (though if you want to reconsider them, there’s some guidance here). The point is to encourage you to make your beliefs – not just what you think in your mind, but what you feel in your heart, and in your gut – a central part of how you design the later stages of your life. Yes, you can get by, perhaps just fine, without doing this. But being clear about your own point of view concerning life and aging and death, concerning what’s really important and what isn’t, gives you your best chance to affirm, extend, and fulfill the ideals that, in the end, you will feel made your life whole and good.
Beliefs & Principles relate to other areas of Spirit:
The meaning of life, because your understanding of the meaning of life in general, and of your particular life, is likely to be able to truly sustain you through thick and thin only if it is grounded in firm beliefs.
Dealing with aging, because older age is the stage of life in which our wisdom reaches its peak, enabling us to review, re-affirm, or change our beliefs with more insight and confidence than we could in younger years. And because those beliefs in turn should help sustain us through the aging process.
Dealing with death, because our belief (or not) in an afterlife, as well as our beliefs about how life should be lived, can strongly influence how we approach death, both in our minds, and in other practical ways.
Spiritual practices, because your beliefs will either open up or limit your ability to engage honestly and fully in practices that have proved beneficial to many people.
Beliefs & Principles relate to other areas besides Spirit:
Purpose, because the purposeful activities in which we engage will be most successful and fulfilling if they conform with what we believe is true and important about life.
Love, because ideas about how we properly relate to other people are central to most belief systems, and therefore should influence our relationships. And because the agreement or disagreement of our beliefs with the beliefs of those we are closest to can affect both our relationships and our beliefs.
Avocation, because our beliefs about what really matters guide us in deciding how we should spend our time.
Security, because our beliefs help us figure out how important money should be in our lives. And because our beliefs, if we let them, guide us in setting our priorities, which in turn determine how we apply our financial resources to our own needs and the needs of others.
Health, because our beliefs about how our body relates to our mind / spirit / soul affect how we treat our bodies. And because psychological issues going far back in our lives can limit the way we evaluate our beliefs or limit our ability to change our beliefs.
“What Do You Believe?” is the best online article we've found yet (which is not saying much) that discusses what "belief" means, without getting too tied up in a pro-religious or anti-religious slant. Though the overall site (Science 2.0) comes at this and related questions from the standpoint of analysis rather than of pre-existing faith, it provides good food for thought for everyone, as do some of the other articles it links to (rating = A-).
“Spiritual Belief System Selector Quiz” Although annoyingly cluttered with ads, this 20-question quiz from SelectSmart is surprisingly adept at categorizing your religious, spiritual, philosophical, and ethical beliefs, or lack thereof. It then shows how your beliefs match up with 27 different religious or non-religious belief systems, and provides links that further describe these and that refer you to books that treat them in more detail (rating = A). If you already know you fit within one of the following realms of belief, you can also try out their more detailed quizzes:
“The Pagan Path Selector” to match you with 8 pagan alternatives (and if you determine that you’re Wiccan, you can use a yet more detailed quiz to identify which of 19 Wiccan varieties you are closest to).
“What’s Your Spiritual Type?” is a similar quiz that asks 25 questions about spirituality, and then grades you into one of eight categories ranging from “hardcore skeptic” to “candidate for clergy” – with each category linking to a list of blog posts on the site. As a self-analysis tool this is only moderately helpful, but it might connect you with like-minded people who are thinking about some of the same issues you are – and the entire BeliefNet site is worth exploring (rating = A-).
“Exercise: Exploring and Living Our Deepest Beliefs,” offers an exercise that is intended for discussion groups, but that can also be done alone, to explore what your deepest beliefs really are (rating = B+) “Discovering Your Values,” from Guardian Tree Productions, offers a slightly different approach (rating = B+). Gary van Warmerdam's “Pathway to Happiness” website offers other kinds of self-analysis to help you discover what your real core beliefs are (rating = A-)
“InwardQuest” is a site that lets people pose and/or answer questions about spirituality, philosophy, religion, and related topics. Its purpose is to promote accurate understanding rather than controversy. Check out existing questions or present your own, if there are belief-related issues you are uncertain about (rating = B+).
The Seeker's Guide, by Elizabeth Lesser, expands upon the author's own spiritual quest to generate suggestions for other seekers (rating = A).
Chapter 3 of What Color Is Your Parachute? - For Retirement (2nd edition), by John E. Nelson, contains very useful exercises for identifying your values and their relative strength, based on the work of Shalom Schwartz of Hebrew University (rating = A). We generally do not recommend individual chapters of books, but Nelson's volume is exceptionally fine throughout, so purchasing it is well worth the cost.
Spirituality Simplified, by Jeff Maziarek, is a readable exploratory guide if you are looking for a more spiritual approach to life, but are not already committed to one viewpoint or another, and are willing to consider ideas that range from the bland to the bizarre. It will also lead you to other sources, whatever your right direction turns out to be (rating = B+).
Affirming or changing your beliefs: If you decide that you need to recommit yourself to your existing beliefs, or that you should be adopting new beliefs instead, how do you implement these decisions?
“Thinking about Your Basic Beliefs, Principles, and Values” is a paper that addresses what belief is about, how to think about whether your current beliefs are right for you, and how to either re-affirm your current beliefs or switch over to new ones, whichever you decide is right for you (rating = A). Also check out “The Wisdom Page,” dedicated to understanding and promoting wisdom; this site links to many other sources to help get you thinking seriously (rating = A)
“Inspired Personal Development” is a website that discusses beliefs, where they come from, and how to change them. If you register, there is a free seven-step course titled “The Art and Magic of Believing,” from the website sponsor, Cathy Johnson Campbell (rating = A-).
“The Change Cycle” uses the concepts of “neuro-linguistic programming” (NLP) to illuminate how beliefs change and to help move you through the process (rating = A-). Note that NLP itself is a somewhat controversial method, though this particular article seems helpful in an innocuous way. If you do an internet search on “neuro-linguistic programming” you can find much more about this concept and the practitioners who offer it.
Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning, by James W. Fowler, is not just about religious faith, but about whatever images, values, and commitments guide your life. The theoretical parts at the beginning are pretty heavy going, and the discussion of the six stages is only somewhat plainer, but there is real insight to be gained if you are willing to work for it (rating = A-).
Or if you are heading in the other direction, The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality, by Andre Comte-Sponville, offers a rationale for non-belief and some guidance for living that way, without attacking believers (rating = A).
Applying your beliefs: How can you apply your beliefs to your decisions about the rest of your life, and to the common details of your daily life?
Many, many resources are available out there to help you focus on your values, figure out how to translate those into life changes, and inspire and motivate you to carry through on your plans. Here are a few that seem a bit better than average, and that are general enough to be applied by almost anyone:
“The Living Values Project,” a wiki project from wikia.com, is a strong and improving source of information and thought-provoking insight about personal values, how we define them for themselves, and how we apply them to our lives (rating = A).
“10 Ways to Be Your Own Life Coach,” a series of instructive pages by Victoria Moran on the belief.net website, explaining in a general but clear way the steps you can take, starting from figuring out what’s good for you to making specific changes in your life (rating = A-).
“Discovering Your Authentic Self” offers some useful thoughts on this topic and also links to some tools that can further help you with self-assessement (rating = A).
“MotivateUs.com” offers motivational and inspiration thoughts, quotations, stories, and links to other materials (posters, calendars, etc.). (rating = B+).
Creating Your Best Life: The Ultimate Life List Guide, by Caroline Adams Miller and Michael B. Frisch. Not only does this book explain how to identify and follow through on making life changes, but it relies on recent scientific studies to understand the deeper obstacles and motivations and thereby offer sound advice on how to get yourself to really make the changes you want to make (rating = A+).
“Life Plan Writer 6,” is a wide-ranging but reasonably easy-to-use software package to help you think through, organize, and carry out plans that reflect your beliefs, personality, goals, and finances ($69.99, rating = A-).