When God is Your Only Friend: Religious Beliefs Compensate for Purpose in Life in the Socially Disconnected

Todd Chan, Nicholas M. Michalak, Oscar Ybarra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Social relationships supply purpose to life. How can socially disconnected people, who show lower levels of purpose, compensate for purpose in life? We propose that religious beliefs can compensate for the purpose in life that social relationships would otherwise provide, through providing (a) greater purpose to turn to and (b) divine figures that can substitute for social relationships. Method: In three studies, we analyze three nationally representative and longitudinal data sets (N = 19,775) using moderated regression and cross-lagged panel analyses. Results: Consistent with our hypotheses, religious beliefs were of minimal influence on purpose in life for socially connected individuals, who already held higher levels of purpose than socially disconnected individuals. However, for socially disconnected individuals, being highly religious predicted higher levels of purpose in life. Conclusions: Results suggest that although people primarily derive purpose from social relationships, socially disconnected individuals may leverage their religious beliefs for purpose and social comfort until they can reconnect.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)455-471
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Personality
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • interpersonal relationships
  • loneliness
  • purpose
  • religion
  • social support

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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