Now Reading
Rainn Wilson’s Spiritual Revolution

Rainn Wilson’s Spiritual Revolution

  • The Actor Has the Key to Solving Everyone’s Problems

If you were to stop people on the street and ask them what our culture needs to fix everything today, you’d likely get a million different answers. Some would say a better economy; others want better leaders. A few would say we need an education overhaul. Some might suggest a social media detox.

And if you ask Rainn Wilson, he’d say a “spiritual revolution.”

“Things are falling apart in our world. From our political climate, to racism and sexism, to income inequality to climate change. More and more young people are feeling this new anxiety, which has turned into a full-blown mental health epidemic for their generation. And there are solutions to be found through spirituality and the tools of spirituality, but we’re not discussing them,” The Office actor explains.

He knows everyone is likely thinking: “Why is the guy who played Dwight writing a book about spirituality?” he literally said.

But it isn’t just a one-off thought Wilson had. It’s something he’s thought about deeply for years, culminating in his latest book, Soul Boom.

“This topic is not just a side hobby of an unemployed actor,” he jokingly said. “It’s really, really important. We need a spiritual revolution.”

Wilson is tired of witnessing people try but fail at solving life’s problems outside of spirituality. Everyone seems to have a different solution, but Wilson sees the clear hole that’s missing in our society.

“We’re talking a lot about positive psychology and how to be happier and more grateful,” he said. “That’s great, but doesn’t seem to be working very well or helping very much. We talk about electing different political figures and politicians and maybe that’ll help if we pass some legislation. That doesn’t really seem to be helping, either.”

Instead, he explains, he wants humanity to “go back to the basics” and begin asking fundamental questions about our purpose on Earth.

“Why are we here? Why are we alive? Why is there something instead of nothing at all in this universe? How should we treat one another? These are essentially spiritual questions as much as they are philosophical ones,” he said.

Going Deeper

Of course, when speaking on spirituality, that can encompass a wide spectrum of opinions, depending on who you ask. Is it all about finding philosophical meaning? Does it only pertain to theology? What does it have to do with yoga and meditation?

Wilson explains that he’s got a much simpler definition than that: “Spirituality is about heart and soul.”

For Christians in particular, he says, spirituality is discovered and cultivated by the Bible and in the Church. And when it comes to a spiritual revolution for Christianity, Wilson wants everyone to take a renewed look at what essentials of our faith need a renewed focus.

While there are countless ways to answer that question, Wilson believes one key path is to emphasize what he calls “divine virtues” — things like kindness, compassion, humility and honesty — in our daily lives.

“These are not virtues that benefit us in any way,” he said. “Those things aren’t going to help you get ahead, right? But these are aspects of the self that are spiritual that can be cultivated through work and through focus. These virtues can help us on an individual level, thinking about the mental health epidemic that’s going on right now, They can give our lives richness and meaning and focus. They can also help us collectively as a species on the planet.”

Wilson knows this from personal experience undergoing a spiritual revolution himself. After growing up in a religious household, Wilson walked away from faith in his 20s.

“I left anything to do with religion hard,” he said. “I turned my back on spirituality and morality and God and religious practice and building community through religion — all of it. I just wanted to go be an actor in New York. I wanted to have fun. I wanted to do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. And I didn’t want anything kind of holding me back.”

As he would quickly find out, his life became full of chaos, spurred on by a variety of addictions and a range of mental health struggles.

“I got very depressed and anxious,” he said. “I had very severe anxiety disorder. I was dabbling in addiction, drugs and alcohol. I was really lost and unhappy.”

After a few years of stumbling around in the dark, Wilson slowly came back to his faith by revisiting and reimplementing the religious practices of his youth.

“It has given my life a tremendous amount of meaning, focus, hope, love and perspective,” he said.

It’s clear to him how his personal journey reflects what’s happening in culture at large. Studies show that society’s interest in religion is on the decline. Only 16 percent of Americans agree that religion is the most important thing in their lives, according to a 2023 report from the Public Religion Research Institute.

Melissa Deckman, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, believes the data reflects another trend in American religious life: “Americans are increasingly likely to become religiously unaffiliated,” she said.

Wilson believes our culture is at a critical moment as it experiences a crisis of faith, particularly for younger generations. But he’s not losing hope just yet.

We need a spiritual revolution.

“As things continue to disintegrate, I do think young people especially are more and more open to thinking about spiritual ideas,” Wilson said. “They’ve been thinking, ‘There’s been so much corruption involved in religion and so much shame and judgment and crimes committed and perpetrated by religion. We’ve jettisoned it.’

“But I think they’re now realizing, ‘Maybe we’ve thrown the spiritual baby out with the religious bathwater. Maybe there is some truth to be found in the holy texts and some sense of transcendent purpose for us human beings on this planet that can actually practically make our lives better and make the world better.’ Because if it doesn’t do that, then we should jettison it. But if spirituality does make our lives and the world better, then we should focus on that and work toward that.”

A Step Forward

However, acknowledging a need for a spiritual revolution and taking steps to make that happen are two separate things. Once you realize that you need a spiritual overhaul, there are a few ways to begin that journey.

One of the first ways, Wilson explains, is to focus on cultivating a hope-filled mindset by not only remaining joyful but also through spreading that joy to others. Creating positivity and working toward a tangible goal may seem like an insignificant task, but it actually has far-reaching effects.

“If we’re cynical and pessimistic, then nothing gets done,” Wilson said, “and the forces of chaos and confusion, of materialism and of hopelessness and despair, they win.”

Squashing cynicism is also often easier said than done. Just look at news headlines on any given day or take a quick scroll through social media. Negativity and despair are rampant, and it’s easy to convince yourself that nothing will ever change.

Wilson admits that even with years of practice, he still struggles with it.

“It’s really easy to get pessimistic and cynical,” he said. “I find myself falling into that position a great deal. So, on a daily basis, I decide to foster joy and squash cynicism. I tell myself that not only am I going to attempt to feel joy and connect with joy, but I’m also going to spread joy. I’m going to give joy to someone else as a service.”

If we’re cynical and pessimistic, then nothing gets done.

The trick, Wilson shared, is to change your pattern of thinking when it comes to cynicism.

“You’ll never completely get rid of negative thoughts,” he said. “So when that voice comes up — the one that tells you nothing will ever change, this sucks, where humans are just buttholes, it’ll never get any better — we’ve got to squash that impulse and recognize it for what it is and say, that’s not gonna lead to anything good to just to dwell in that. So feel it, acknowledge it, and then let it go and focus on joy.”

Notice how he didn’t say to ignore the negative emotions? Wilson explains that one of the ways our culture has distorted spirituality is by making it all about the good things. Focusing only on happy feelings means we’re ignoring an essential part of our heart and soul.

“The ‘negative emotions’ are there to help us,” he shared. “They’re there to guide us. We live in a state right now, especially with young people, where they’ve convinced themselves they shouldn’t be feeling these negative emotions. They shouldn’t be feeling depression, anxiety, overwhelmed, disconnection, loneliness. But those ‘negative emotions’ can be very valuable teachers.”

It’s a thin line to balance, Wilson said, to focus on cultivating positive virtues while maintaining awareness of the negativity of the world. But how else are we supposed to know where our society needs help if we ignore the hurt, he asks? How are we supposed to push back on the negative forces at work in the world if we don’t acknowledge they’re even there in the first place?

“In a way, it’s a really good time to be pessimistic,” Wilson joked. “The mental health epidemic is off the charts. Climate change is terrible. Political systems are corrupt and divisive and hate-filled. Our culture is more and more just materialistic every day. It’s a good time to get depressed.

“But there are two forces at work going on in the world right now: the forces of integration and the forces of disintegration,” he continued. “It’s really easy to get stuck looking at the forces of disintegration. Things are falling apart. They’re getting more disunified. So what to do is shift your focus ever so slightly to where integration is happening. There’s plenty of content on social media, websites, grassroots organizations, people working to make a better world. It’s easier said than done, but we have to focus on the integration and start to let the disintegration go.”

For the last several years, Wilson has made a concerted effort to be part of the force of integration. He’s partnered with several nonprofit organizations, including LIDÈ Haiti, an educational initiative he established that uses the arts and literacy to build resiliency and empower adolescent girls in rural Haiti, helping them to transition into academic or vocational education; ArcticBasecamp, an organization focused on bringing awareness to the melting polar caps (Wilson did his part by briefly changing his name to “Rainnfall Heat Wave Extreme Winter Wilson”); and through SoulPancake, a digital media company that created inspiring, uplifting online content.

If we all do our little bit, one step at a time to make the world a better place.

“We created over 3,000 pieces of content,” Wilson said. We got over a billion video views, and it was an amazing run. We were one of the very first to be making videos on mental health. We did a documentary on the intersection of mental health and comedy,  and a science-based show on the study of positive psychology. We even made a kid president.”

Suffice to say, Wilson knows what he’s talking about. By making minor changes to focus on the light in the world each day, he’s able to experience joy and peace in the midst of disorienting chaos. He can find laughter and happiness even when the world is surrounded by deep sorrow. And if “that guy who played Dwight” can do that in his own life, why can’t everyone?

“I know some people will read my book and think, ‘But I’m just one person, so how much difference could I make?’” Wilson said. “But the truth is, we all need to partake in a spiritual revolution. We don’t make a difference out in the world if we don’t start with ourselves first.

“If we all do our little bit, one step at a time to make the world a better place.”

© 2023 RELEVANT Media Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Scroll To Top

You’re reading our ad-supported experience

For our premium ad-free experience, including exclusive podcasts, issues and more, subscribe to

Plans start as low as $2.50/mo