Sincere religious beliefs help provide a greater sense of life purpose for those suffering from social disconnection, according to a study from the Journal of Personality.
Todd Chan, an author of the study and University of Michigan Ph.D. candidate, said the research focused on the methods by which those who feel socially disconnected can cope with resulting feelings of reduced purpose.
While it could be suggested that those who feel socially disconnected should simply socialize more, Chan explained that usually is not a feasible solution given the fact that socially disconnected people often feel that others are unavailable or unsupportive. Taking solace in being valued by God, however, is a feasible solution. (RELATED: SCIENCE: Uncertain About Religion? You Probably Fear Death And Have Low Self-Esteem)
“People provide purpose. People who feel like they belong and well supported by their friendships consistently have a higher sense of purpose and direction in life, and people lose purpose when they feel socially disconnected,” Chan told PsyPost.
“However, our research here shows that having a belief system that ‘substitutes’ for some of the functions of human relationships, like feeling valued and supported by God, may allow people who feel disconnected to restore some of this purpose that social relationships would normally provide. This compensation may benefit people who are disconnected over time,” he added.
Chan also clarified that the study’s findings showed religious belief made minimal difference in terms of sense of purpose for those who feel socially connected. The positive effect on sense of purpose was most observable among those who needed to turn to God in times of loneliness. Relationship with God in isolation does not, however, totally satisfy the need for human interaction, according to Chan.
“Although our current research suggests that religion and God may compensate for some of the purpose that social relationships would otherwise provide, it did not restore purpose to a level comparable to that of people who feel socially connected,” Chan said.
“Regardless of religiosity, people who feel socially disconnected report much lower levels of purpose in life than people who feel socially connected,” he added.
Chan said that it was unclear how those who do not adhere to any religious belief can adequately cope with the lowered sense of purpose inherent in social disconnection. Whether or not someone is religious, however, the study authors claimed that healthy relationships with others, as opposed to a good career, proved more necessary for having a healthy sense of worth and motivation.
“Leveraging God and religion may be a way of coping with disconnection in the interim that is better than nothing, but these results certainly do not suggest that people should rely upon religion or God for purpose over people. Quality human connections are still a primary and enduring source of purpose in life,” he said.
“Purpose is future-oriented and motivational, where people feel that future goals and directions are significant and worth pursuing. However, these strivings are invariably intertwined with other people. We pursue goals with other people, with the help of other people, or in favor of other people,” he added.
Researchers for the study analyzed data from the participation of 19,775 U.S. adults in three nationally-representative studies.
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