Christians happier than atheists – on Twitter
In 140 characters or less, Christians seem to be spreading love and joy more than atheists.
June 28th, 2013
08:02 AM ET

Christians happier than atheists – on Twitter

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN
[twitter-follow screen_name='JRavitzCNN']

(CNN) - Christians tweet from the heart, atheists from the head, according to a new study.

The study conducted at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign tapped Twitter as a research tool and compared the messages of Christians and atheists.

The conclusion: When they are limited to 140 characters or less, these researchers say, believers are happier than their counterparts.

Two doctoral students in social psychology and an adviser analyzed the casual language of nearly 2 million tweets from more than 16,000 active users to come up with their findings, which were published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

The team identified subjects by finding Twitter users who followed the feeds of five prominent public figures. In the case of Christians, those select five were Pope Benedict XVI, Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, conservative political commentator Dinesh D’Souza and Joyce Meyer, an evangelical author and speaker.

In the case of atheists, the five followed feeds included Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Monica Salcedo and Michael Shermer - the latter two respectively being a self-described “fiercely outspoken atheist” blogger, and a science writer who founded The Skeptics Society.

With the help of a text analysis program, the researchers found that Christians tweet with higher frequency words reflecting positive emotions, social relationships and an intuitive style of thinking – the sort that’s gut-driven.

This isn’t to say that atheists don’t use these words, too, but they out-tweet Christians when it comes to analytic words and words associated with negative emotions.

Christians, they found, are more likely to use words like “love,” “happy” and “great”; “family,” “friend” and “team.”

Atheists win when it comes to using words like “bad,” “wrong,” and “awful” or “think,” “reason” and “question,” said Ryan Ritter, one of the students behind the study.

While not perfect – for example, this sort of word examination can’t account for sarcasm – word choices, Ritter and his colleagues argue, reflect something about a person’s mindset.

An analytical thinker (atheist) is more likely to be skeptical or critical, for example, whereas an intuitive thinker (Christian) is guided by emotion and certainty.

Based on previous studies cited by these researchers, analytical thinking may "diminish the capacity for optimism and positive self-illusions that typify good mental health."

Likewise, mentions of social connections, which they say are often provided in a “tight-knit moral community,” suggest stronger relationships among Christian tweeters and are, they add, often an indicator of happiness.

The takeaway, Ritter wrote in an e-mail, is “not that religion is associated with more happiness, per se, but why?”

“If we can understand the factors that facilitate happiness (e.g., increased social support), ideally we can use these insights to increase well-being for believers and nonbelievers alike,” Ritter said.

But the Twitter study doesn’t fly with everyone.

After reading an article about the study on Pacific Standard magazine’s website, Richard Wade, an advice columnist for the blog Friendly Atheist, called it “useless and misleading” and based on “sloppy research.”

He wrote, “The take away for most lay people is ‘Atheists are unhappy people.’ … How do you quantify ‘happiness’? How do you quantify ‘analytical thinking’?”

“Even in their acknowledgments about the possible biases in their study, the authors still use absurd and meaningless terms like ‘militant atheist,’” he added. “This study suffers from the same negative stereotypes about atheists that most of society has, and it has simply reinforced that prejudice with more muddled thinking.”

Ritter, who happens to describe himself as a happy atheist, said in hindsight he wishes they hadn’t used the word “militant” and that no ill will was intended. They simply wanted to describe those who have “extremely negative attitudes” when it comes to religion.

“I am a friend of the atheists! My response to Richard would be that he should apply the ‘principle of charity’ when interpreting other’s research (i.e., that it’s possible we’re NOT incompetent,” he wrote in an e-mail.

“This is not an assumption; this is the pattern we observed in the data.”

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Atheism • Christianity • Technology

soundoff (1,317 Responses)
  1. Wrong again

    Who cares. This is an irrelevant story.

    July 8, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
  2. pauleky

    Easy to be "unhappy" when the majority are deluded into believing in a sky fairy to the detriment of society. I'm sure it's already been said multiple times, but ignorance is clearly bliss.

    July 8, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
  3. tony

    Dear Angie


    The simple answer is that there is no "meaning" to life. And there is no plan, from any god or otherwise. Such a plan would of course completely negate the concept of our own, and others "free will".

    We are all lucky to be here, and it is up to each of us to make the most of the opportunity and experience. And if that creates a meaning for you, all well and good. Your life, your responsibility.

    July 8, 2013 at 10:44 am |

    Happy, Happier, and Happiest!


    July 8, 2013 at 5:28 am |
  5. Dune

    You know... being happy is NOT a measure of the veracity of an idea. Some of the clinically insane are down right joyful ALL the time believing in grand delusions. That they are measurably "happier" than the rest of us doesn't make their delusions real. And I can't see anyone arguing that being delusional is the preferred mental state because of that increased happy factor. This is not a hard concept people. The differences could have a LOT more to do with the social pressures against non-believers then the impact of their particular choice to view reality honestly. Coloration is NOT causation.

    July 7, 2013 at 11:54 pm |
    • (2i)^0.5

      Integral of happiness*time, as time goes to zero.

      July 8, 2013 at 12:40 am |
  6. mason

    Atheist win with words like think, question, reason...wow, what a surprise. Those are negative words...delusional believers are of course "happier" cause the words of delusion are always happier...my parents used the happy words but they were miserable...

    July 7, 2013 at 11:11 pm |
    • Don

      Congratulations sir, on the straw man post of the day.

      July 8, 2013 at 3:31 am |
  7. Just Call Me Lucifer

    Christians should just be happy in the knowledge that they've spent their entire lives living in fear of and kissing the ass of something that does not exist.

    July 7, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
    • Spectrophiliac

      Well y'know don't knock it till you try it.

      July 7, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
    • logan5

      Most non believers were once "believers." So most have tried it and so are compelled to knock it. Unfortunately for Christianity, it more than deserves all the derision and challenges that come its way.

      July 8, 2013 at 12:38 am |
    • @logan5

      Pathetic evidence to explain away a sarcastic comment. I say pathetic because in travelling one will see that church attendance in non-mainstream doctrines are attended by a large % of once self proclaimed unbelievers.

      July 8, 2013 at 9:21 am |
    • tallulah13

      We were are born as non-believers, therefore every person you see in a church was once a non-believer. However, most of us who have rejected the existence of god (for lack of proof or any other reason) did indeed believe, once upon a time.

      July 8, 2013 at 9:32 am |
  8. Ghatsrasfdas

    What a load of crap. Seriously CNN, you can't jump to this conclusion. How can you tell if somebody is Christian through twitter? Usually Christians talk about that belief more than Atheists talk about their non-belief.

    So this is a CRAP "study". Further garbage from Christians pretending they are better and happier people than everyone else. As an agnostic atheist, consider me fully offended.

    July 7, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
    • For Science

      That's a load fo crap. Atheists spew just as much garbage as all those religious types do, and a lot of times more. The only Atheist I can listen to for longer than a couple of sentences is Penn Jillette because at least he's funny.

      July 7, 2013 at 10:04 pm |
  9. lamb of dog

    What a load of junk. This cant be scientific because of the variables.

    July 7, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
    • lamb of dog

      Next time they should use followers of Westboro instead. Clowns.

      July 7, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
    • happier than atheists

      Quit crying in your oatmeal and wipe the milk off your face.

      July 8, 2013 at 5:36 am |
  10. Mark Felt

    I am amazed what is accepted as "research" these days.

    July 7, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
    • happier than atheists

      With 2 million tweets of up to 140 characters, 16,000 users, it's possible they made a mistake somewhere with the slide rule.

      July 8, 2013 at 5:44 am |
  11. tony

    The same group ought to run that analysis on the Bible text.

    July 7, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
  12. One one

    They use happy words like "love" and "peace" because their dogma teaches them that is what they are supposed to do. It's live when Christians say they love atheists. Their bible says they are supposed to love everyone, but I don't buy it.

    July 7, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
  13. Berbad

    Atheists do not picked funerals for military personal. Just saying.

    July 7, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
  14. Mack

    Makes sense to me. Atheists are concerned about the word around them and can thoughtfully voice the reality of the situation and believers rely on squishy, feel-good words about how their sky friend cares about them so everything will be OK. It's called religious delusion. Pretty simple.

    July 7, 2013 at 9:17 am |
    • Mike

      The point of the article was that Christians use more positive words than atheists. And that implies they are happier. There's no reason an atheist shouldn't use an equal amount of happy words. For an instance an atheist could Tweet, "Man I am so HAPPY that Bill Maher was on last night. I LOVE when he makes fun of Christians and any religious people really! And they can't really fight back, which is so GREAT! I am so PLEASED we live in a society where a guy with Daddy issues can show up in Los Angeles and just cause he's read Dante's Inferno everyone thinks he's the smartest man who ever lived. I am COMFORTED that he tells me what to think.
      That's all they are saying. That atheists don't use positive language and are more negative and unhappy. They're not saying that you "analytical", thoughtful caring about the world people, who are always questioning things are sheep and if you ever actually ran into Richard Dawkins and said, "Yeah, I have a Ph.D in Genetics, I get survival of the fittest, why giraffes have long necks, all that . . . now what in the hell does that have to do with something even resembling a theory as to how a living cell could first form on this planet let alone survive and propagate? His answer is gonna be, "Uh, well the ocean back then, and, uh, lightning bolt, and, um, there you go." And if you stare at him for a few seconds like you're not an idiot, he'll point behind you and scream, "OH MY GOD, IT'S THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT!" and run away.

      So don't worry, be HAPPY religion haters (kinda a more phrase than atheist, you know when you're not saying, "I don't believe in God" but really saying "I don't believe in God, and I'm gonna make you feel foolish until you think like me"! Ignorance is bliss. Or so I've heard.

      July 7, 2013 at 11:17 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      It is all moot, since "using happy words" is not a real indicator of happiness. Oftem words are mis-used, used in sarcasm, so the words meaning changes due to the context, something this does not take into account, etc, etc. Many many reasons that this is not anything that has weight.
      Also there are many other factors, such as growing up an atheist, surrounded by christians, I have had many experiences with the majority that oppress you for your beliefs. CHeck the studies in countries have different religious mixes and see which are the "happiest". You will find that the majority of what ever characteristic is being focused on , will be the happiest, since they are in the majority, and this creates a false sense of well being.
      An article from the Minn Post
      "New research has found “that the positive effects of religion depend enormously on where you live,” writes Upson. “Religious people may be happier than their godless counterparts, but only if the society they belong to values religion highly, which not all societies do.”

      In other words, the “happiness premium" that previous research has found among religious people stems not from those individuals' religious beliefs, but from the social support they receive from being part of a community of like-minded people

      July 7, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • Mike

      Richard, right of course. I mean the study is not scientific and doesn't have a meaningful hypothesis to begin with if that's the right word. But CNN picked it up and the story is designed to elicit a reaction. And, in was getting pretty sarcastic there myself.
      But the reason I spent the time to even write something down is because of the shear arrogance you see in situations where atheists feel they somehow have the corner on scientific advancement and open thought and they're all Renaissance Men and Women and Christians are a bunch of dumb easily led illiterates.
      And I want to make this short I hope it's still understandable. I understand that a portion of society in America is subject to a bunch of crap for being Atheist because of their parents or community stands. For those people I'm sorry, but for those people who are not living at home, not living in a sheltered area, have a job, watch, talk to friends . . . In that America you're not going to catch crap from anyone for being atheist. And I would submit to you we DO live in a very religious country . . . and that Religion is Atheism. And no Christians aren't getting stoned, but an athiest doesn't have to explain him or herself when a Christian walks up to a group of people then walks away, about 10 seconds later somebody is going to say is "Hey, you know that guy is Christian?" And that's fine I suppose, and I could give a crap whether other people believe in God or I mean it would be nice if somebody shared my views but I'll live. My problem is the single mindedness and rigidity of thought that atheists have because they are all being taught the same stuff from cradle to grave by Universities and the major media companies, instead of thinking for themselves. And the icing on the cake is that's what every atheist thinks about Christians. That was probably a little too brief, but ya know. I hope you got a little about where I'm coming from. I'm not saying I'm oppressed, I'm saying the country is a mess, people say they give a damn about the environment but they really couldn't tell you the difference between the ozone hole and global warming, and maybe they need to learn to think for themselves.

      July 7, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
  15. Left brain vs right brain

    This article is also useful in understanding thinking styles.


    July 7, 2013 at 6:50 am |
  16. Left brain vs right brain


    This should help explain things.

    July 7, 2013 at 6:43 am |
  17. theredneck

    I'd be happy to concede that atheists are more analytical than us "emotion-driven" Christians–if I didn't see them so often convulsed with froth-at-the-mouth, thought-destroying hatred.

    July 7, 2013 at 1:49 am |
    • Observer

      The only people "frothing at the mouth" with hatred lately seem to be hypocritical Christians protesting equal rights for gays or screaming about abortion as if it really existed in the Bible.

      July 7, 2013 at 1:55 am |
    • Babies in heaven

      "The first recorded evidence of induced abortion is from the Egyptian Ebers Papyrus in 1550 BCE."

      Jesus said not to despise the least of them, about 1580 years after that first abortion.

      July 7, 2013 at 2:15 am |
    • tallulah13

      But where did Jesus actually mention abortion?

      July 7, 2013 at 2:31 am |
    • Babies in heaven

      Jesus told them to store their treasure in heaven, where their heart is... their heart should be there thinking of heaven.

      Apparently he was irked if someone wanted to store babies there instead.

      July 7, 2013 at 3:01 am |
    • Babies in heaven

      Why else would someone despise their own baby?

      Aborted babies are NOT wanted, they are dispised, terminated, inconvenient, too much effort and cost. Unwanted.

      July 7, 2013 at 3:08 am |
    • tallulah13

      But where did Jesus actually mention abortion?

      July 7, 2013 at 3:14 am |
    • Babies in heaven

      That man, Jesus, was extremely intelligent, and still is. He's very loving, and he knew all this. You want to portray him as some dumb backwards nobody from 2000 years ago. This is an instant in time for him, he already knew it all. He is who he said he is, the Son of God.

      They were doing abortions in Egypt 1550 years before Jesus was born, and they moved to Egypt right after he was born, then back again to Nazareth years later. He was not as dumb as you'd like him to have been. He knew the woman's life story at the well, and all the people ready to stone the woman caught in adultry. He wrote their names on the ground and they walked away. Where are you going to find another man like Jesus that can save you... just by belief, repentence and doing what God wants?

      July 7, 2013 at 3:20 am |
    • tallulah13

      I did not make a single assumption about Jesus. All I asked for was his words on the topic of abortion. You gave your own opinion and what you believe Jesus would have thought. So I ask again: What did Jesus say about abortion? In his words, not yours.

      July 7, 2013 at 3:25 am |
    • Babies in heaven

      Mat 18:10 Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.

      He's talking about DEAD hated by their parents, babies, in heaven, as angels that can see God. He did not say their parents loved them, they were despised, like he was, despised and rejected. But he came to save people... if they believe him.

      Angels have names in heaven. Either God or the other angels, or both, name the babies... in heaven.... because no one names them here.

      July 7, 2013 at 3:33 am |
    • tallulah13

      When you put the verse in context, you realize that he called a living, already born child to him, and was actually speaking about his followers being as trusting and simple as that child.

      Your personal interpretation is nothing more than you trying to put words into the mouth of Christ.

      July 7, 2013 at 3:46 am |
    • tallulah13

      Anyway, it's quite late here, and you can't provide what isn't there.The bible itself never actually mentions abortion. Good night.

      July 7, 2013 at 3:52 am |
    • Babies in heaven

      When else would parents despise their child when he/she is the smallest they could be? The smallest a parent could despise is a new born, or an aborted baby... and the aborted baby is dead due to the abortion. Abortions were happening 1580 years before he said it. Abortion is ancient history, and in their tool kit at the time.

      Jesus went to sinners, to turn them around. Sinners would be doing abortions if they were available, and they clearly were, recorded history.

      July 7, 2013 at 3:58 am |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      Babies in heaven: You do realize that sin only exists in the buybull and not reality...right? That abortions are mostly had by christard women? That abortion is not due to children being despised and is usually the result of other issues-mistakes happen; rape; incest; the risk of the mother's life? That in the grand scheme of it what a woman does with her own body is not your business or the business of your imaginary friend?

      July 7, 2013 at 5:59 am |
    • LiarPrefails :-}

      Look at me I am desperate for attention. I can't spell words properly and think i am cute in so doing. No one in my own country will notice me but i can sure fool Americans into thinking i'm smart.

      July 7, 2013 at 6:28 am |
    • Floating babies in heaven


      You can imagine the problems this causes in heaven, right TruthPrevails? How could not be God's concern? He starts forming the babies and then they're killed in the womb, and now there's got to be quite a few flying all over heaven, doing typical baby stuff... when the babies could have be tooling around with their parents. It's not right and you know it. So did Jesus, it's clear from what he was saying in the verses, said in a way that they could get the message and still know he was there to save the lost.

      The babies do have names in heaven... but having them fly around and grab your ear when you least expect it, I don't know... it's not right.

      July 7, 2013 at 6:46 am |
    • j

      remove the hatred there is no atheism

      July 7, 2013 at 6:47 am |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      Floating babies in heaven: No heaven, no hell...both creations of man to fool the gullible and place fear in man. No evidence outside of the buybull to support any of it and thus no reason to believe it.

      CA: You're just a delusional waste of human flesh. The asylum should not be letting you out for weekend passes. In case you missed the first 1 000 000 times, CNN is an international site not a US only site. CNN hires numerous Canadian's and as always your hate for your countries greatest allies shines brightly. Enjoy your last day out, we look forward to laughing at you next weekend.

      July 7, 2013 at 7:21 am |
    • LiarPrefails :-}

      Please notice me. See how cute i can be when i misspell Bible, i should get points for that. In my own country no one likes me but i can come on here and pretend i'm smart and no one knows any better. I am the greatest most smartest thing ever!

      July 7, 2013 at 7:28 am |
    • Berbad

      Another believer who never read the bible. Your comment about atheists is the same as me claiming that people like you (believers) stone their women to death, believe man was made from mud, woman from a rib, incest is acceptable, Noah REALLY building a big boat, bend towards mecca to pray. I can, just like you, comb all believers with the same brush. Unlike believers, atheists do NOT picked funerals for military personal. ALL those things are reserved for you believers...not us atheists, who are FOAMING, right? Redneck...u really honored your name here.

      July 7, 2013 at 11:58 am |
    • One one

      References to abortion in the bible.

      In Hosea 9:11-16, “Ephraim shall bring forth his children to the murderer. Give them, 0 Lord: what wilt thou give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts. . .Ephraim is smitten, their root is dried up, they shall bear no fruit: yea though they bring forth, yet will I slay even the beloved fruit of their womb.”

      Numbers 5:11-21, possible induced abortion.

      Numbers 31:17 “Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every women that hath known man by lying with him.”

      Hosea 13:16 “their women with child shall be ripped up”.

      2 Kings 15:16 “Then Menahem struck Tiphsah, and all who were therein, and its borders, from Tirzah: because they didn't open to him, therefore he struck it; and all the women therein who were with child he ripped up.”

      July 7, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Actually, none of those are references to abortion. They are references to infertility and the murder of pregnant women. Even christian apologists admit that there is no direct mention to abortion in the bible. All you have is interpretation, and biblical interpretation has led to at least 33,000 different denominations of christianity. Not exactly a precise method of figuring out what god said.

      July 7, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
    • Floating babies in heaven

      Maybe Jesus is saying to love the aborted babies in heaven?

      It is sometimes difficult to decifer what Jesus was saying.

      July 7, 2013 at 9:22 pm |
    • Floating babies in heaven

      It will be difficult to love an aborted baby unless someone tells you their name... from heaven.

      An angel or God could tell someone the baby's name.

      July 7, 2013 at 9:44 pm |
  18. Babies in heaven

    ... awaiting moderation.

    July 7, 2013 at 1:16 am |
    • fyi

      Not so anymore, Mark. Co-Editor, Daniel Burke, stops in from time to time (for the past week or so) and they have put in some kind of goofy automatic moderation, the specs of which are unclear.

      The "awaiting moderation" message does not appear if it's a simple word filter problem.

      July 7, 2013 at 1:22 am |
  19. Sue Anne

    This quote sums it up nicely

    The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.
    George Bernard Shaw

    July 7, 2013 at 12:54 am |
    • Athy

      Thank you, Sue Anne. Logic among the nonsense.

      July 7, 2013 at 1:13 am |
    • Mike

      Actually, that's a good call! I can't think of a better standard bearer for what an obsession with atheism can lead to. And he did love logic, but I always thought this little pearl of wisdom showed better the kind of man he was:
      “ I don’t want to punish anybody, but there are an extraordinary number of people who I might want to kill…I think it would be a good thing to make everybody come before a properly appointed board just as he might come before the income tax commissioner and say every 5 years or every 7 years…just put them there and say , ‘Sir or madam will you be kind enough to justify your existence…if you’re not producing as much as you consume or perhaps a little bit more then clearly we cannot use the big organization of our society for the purpose of keeping you alive. Because your life does not benefit us and it can’t be of very much use to yourself.’
      Shaw wrote, “ I appeal to the chemists to discover a humane gas that will kill instantly and painlessly. In short – a gentlemanly gas deadly by all means, but humane, not cruel.”

      July 7, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
  20. Sue Anne

    Are they actually happier, or just so insecure that they have to keep telling people that they're happy?

    It's like faith, isn't it? I don't go around talking about that the things I have confidence in very much, but people who have faith in a god are talking about it all the time. It's like they need to reassure themselves, A LOT!

    July 7, 2013 at 12:49 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      The way some Atheist are reflecting on this article, it seems that they need a lot of reassurance of their views on Faith.

      July 7, 2013 at 1:16 am |
    • Athy

      Not at all, Mark. I can't speak for other atheists, but i need no reassurance whatsoever on my view. There is no higher power, no god, no supreme being, no intelligent designer. As much as I would like to believe otherwise, common sense wins out.

      July 7, 2013 at 1:21 am |
    • tallulah13

      I am simply offended that they chose the words “think,” “reason” and “question" to represent negative thoughts. I don't know about you, but these thoughts are about as positive as it gets to me.

      July 7, 2013 at 2:33 am |
    • Hadassah

      No, Sue Anne....Christians talk about their Faith A LOT, because we want to spread the Good News! 🙂

      July 8, 2013 at 9:04 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.