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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. Closet Atheist

    They say that the mentally handicapped are often the happiest....

    Coincidence?

    July 18, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
    • toll

      dude you just got done describing how happy you are, tell me you're not that dumb.

      July 18, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
      • Closet Atheist

        Ultimately, my point is that the "study" is really idiotic... I'm sure there's a bias to the sample set and the way it was conducted.

        My mentally handicapped comment was just trying to be snarky and get a rise out of people.

        I suppose I should've spaced out my comments....

        July 18, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
  2. Closet Atheist

    I'm happy as a clam....

    Have beautiful (inside and out) wife and daughter, great job, nice house, vacation home, etc... life is pretty good.

    If I come across as "angry" or "negative" in blog posts, comments, tweets, etc... it is largely around the topic of religion. It is exhausting talking sense and logic with blindly dogmatic believers.

    July 18, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
    • toll

      What's so beautiful about her insides?

      July 18, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
      • Closet Atheist

        They tasted delicious with some fava beans and a nice chianti.

        You're a dolt.

        July 18, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
        • toll

          what if you try not being a tool?

          July 18, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
  3. Cronus

    The blogs by atheists prove this article prove it to be correct. They are angry, negative and condescending. Let's face it atheists are not a happy bunch. They need spirituality in their lives, but refuse it.

    July 18, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
    • Closet Atheist

      Thank you, Cronus... please send god to my house for the conversion...

      July 18, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
  4. Andrew

    This is probably one of the most biased articles I have ever read. This is Discrimination and stereotyping.

    July 18, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
  5. Logic led me to atheism

    "I love and I hate because I am a non-believer. Believers, on the other hand, love and pretend not to hate."- Selvi Yang

    July 18, 2013 at 11:34 am |
  6. George Shaw

    That fact that a religious person might be happier than an atheist is no more relevant than the fact that a drunk might be happier than a sober person.

    July 18, 2013 at 9:52 am |
    • stampece

      Well yes, it would be, assuming that the religious person is not using a drug to induce his state of happiness.

      July 18, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
  7. The bottom line

    I'm only worried about my death. I now have two choices. I can do nothing (atheism), or I can do something that doesn't look like it's going to work all that well (religion). People have been dying since there have been people and this is the best we humans could come up with???

    July 18, 2013 at 6:41 am |
    • faith

      do nothin. much more fun. religion is for people like sambo the little fatso stone-u no, real sickies. that girl needs religion bad!

      July 18, 2013 at 7:06 am |
  8. Kindness

    Kindness
    This is my experience... Thank you.

    MY personal testimony.
    A thought to consider without an ego response

    I Accepted Jesus christ as my lord and saviour. You never know how soon is too late. Transcend the worldly illusion of enslavement.
    The world denounces truth....

    Accepting Jesus Christ (for me) resulted in something like seeng a new colour. You will see it .....but will not be able to clearly explain it to anyone else..... Its meant to be that way to transend any selfism within you.

    Also... much the world arranges "surrounding dark matter into something to be debated" in such a way that protects/inflates the ego.

    The key is be present and transcend our own desire to physically see evidence. We don't know anyways by defending our own perception of dark matter.

    Currently.... most of us are constructing our own path that suits our sin lifestyle. Were all sinners. Knowing that we are is often an issue. But both christians and non are sinners. Even once we are saved by christs merciful grace we will still experience adversity to mold us to adhering to the truth.
    We will slip... But not fall of the ship ...carrying us onward to perfection in christs grace.

    We don't like to Let go and let god. We want control to some degree. This is what Jesus asks us to do. "Follow me".
    It's the hardest thing to do... but is done by letting the truth of scripture lead you (redemptive revelation)... as I said .

    Try reading corinthians and see if it makes sense to you. Try it without a pre conceived notion of it being a fairy tale.
    See the truth...
    do we do what it says in todays society... is it relevant... so many have not recently read and only hinge their philosophy on what they have heard from some other person...which may have been full of arogance pride or vanity..

    Look closely at the economy ponzi, look at how society idolizes Lust , greed , envy, sloth, pride of life, desire for knowledge, desire for power, desire for revencge,gluttony with food etc .

    Trancsend the temporal world.

    Just think if you can find any truth you can take with you ....in any of these things. When you die your riches go to someone who will spend away your life..... You will be forgotten.... history will repeat iteslf.... the greatest minds knowledge fade or are eventually plagerzed..... your good deeds will be forgotten and only give you a fleeting temporary reward . your learned teachings are forgotten or mutated..... your gold is transfered back to the rullers that rule you through deception. Your grave will grow over . This is truth .

    Trancsend your egoism and free yourself from this dominion of satan. Understand you are a sinner and part of the collective problem of this worldly matrix... Repent.... Repent means knowing (to change) The Holy spirit (within) will convict you beyond what you think you can do by yourself. Grace is given to those who renounce the world. That are" in" the world but not "of " the world.

    Evidence follows faith. Faith does not follow evidence..... Faith ....above reason in Jesus Christ.

    Faith comes by Reading or Hearing the word of god from the bible . Ask Jesus in faith for dicernment and start reading the new testament... You will be shocked when you lay down your preconceived notions and ....see and hear truth ... see how christ sets an example ... feel the truth....

    Read Ecclesiastes. Read romans or corinthians.

    You cant trancend your own egoism by adapting a world philosophy to suit your needs. Seek the truth in Christ.

    Sell all your cleverness and purchase true bewilderment. You don't get what you want ....you get what you are by faith above reason in christ.

    I promise this has been the truth for me. In Jesus christ .

    Think of what you really have to lose. ...your ego?

    Break the Matrix of illusion that holds your senses captive.

    once you do . you too will have the wisdom of God that comes only through the Holy Spirit. Saved By grace through Faith. Just like seeing a new colour.... can't explain it to a transient caught in the matrix of worldly deception.
    You will also see how the world suppresses this information and distorts it

    You're all smart people . I tell the truth. Its hard to think out of the box when earthly thinking is the box.
    I'ts a personal free experience you can do it free anytime . Don't wait till you are about to die.. START PUTTING YOUR TREASURES WHERE THEY REALLY MATTER >
    Its awsome and It's just between you and Jesus

    my testimony

    Romans 10:9

    "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved

    Last eve I passed beside a blacksmith’s door,
    And heard the anvil ring the vesper chime;
    The, looking in, I saw upon the floor
    Old hammers, worn with beating years of time.
    “How many anvils have you had,” said I,
    “To wear and batter all these hammers so?”
    “Just one,” said he, and then with twinkling eye,
    “The anvil wears the hammers out, you know.”
    And so, thought I, the anvil of God’s Word,
    For ages skeptic blows have beat upon;
    Yet, though the noise of falling blows was heard,
    The anvil is unharmed – the hammers gone.

    Truth is..exclusive

    July 18, 2013 at 12:31 am |
    • Smithsonian

      "Try reading corinthians and see if it makes sense to you. Try it without a pre conceived notion of it being a fairy tale."

      It is a fairytale. The Bible is primarily a book of religion, a guide to faith. it was not a book of history, poetry, economics, or science. It contains all sorts of literary genre, which are used to teach about the relationship between God and mankind. Even biblical history is edited history: events were chosen to illustrate the central theme of the Bible. The Biblical writers did not pretend they were giving a complete history; instead they constantly refer us to other sources for full historical details, sources such as "The Annals of the Kings of Judah" (or Israel).

      It is therefore not possible to try to "prove" the Bible by means of checking its historical or scientific accuracy. The only "proof" to which it can be subjected is this: Does it correctly portray the God-human relationship? In the best analysis, the Bible is a religious book, not an historical document.

      July 18, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
  9. Akeem

    I don't know im pretty happy i don't necessarily disproove of gods existance i just don't feel the need to pray to him when things go bad. Knowing all bad things come to an end. So i go through life not worrying about where i will end up 80 yrs from now its all about the here and now..Live for the moment.

    July 17, 2013 at 9:29 pm |
    • Hugheen

      I believe Christians are happier than atheists but I think the trade off is realism and truth which are always harder to deal with than belief in unproven illusions. I'll take the unhappiness if that is the price one pays for atheism.

      July 17, 2013 at 10:35 pm |
  10. Ryszard

    Ignorance is bliss, with knowledge comes painful responsibility. Truth can be bitterly painful.

    July 17, 2013 at 8:23 pm |
    • MasterWooten

      "Truth"?

      More like you flawed opinion. Your lack of faith does not denote any discerned truth whatsoever.

      July 17, 2013 at 9:23 pm |
      • In Santa we trust

        So you have evidence of a god? Do share.

        July 17, 2013 at 9:40 pm |
        • Captain America

          You can completely disprove God? Do share

          July 17, 2013 at 11:28 pm |
  11. Words of Love

    Extra hearts for Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit. Thank you for giving us the bible!

    July 17, 2013 at 8:20 pm |
  12. GOOD NEWS

    In order to be real Happy

    one must know the Real GOD.

    http://www.holy-19-harvest.com
    UNIVERSAL MAGNIFICENT MIRACLES

    July 17, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
  13. Flappy

    "analytical thinking may `diminish the capacity for optimism and positive self-illusions that typify good mental health.`"

    Being delusional is always a good sign of mental health.

    July 17, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
  14. DarrellSF

    I wonder how much of the tweeted Christian happiness is euphoria and/or delusion?

    For example, It was God's will that the garment factory collapsed in Bangladesh. And all those victims are (in heaven, in hell, in limbo) because (it was their time, they are heathens, god has a plan).

    You can be very happy because god is going to treat them good and give them the opportunity so accept jesus as their personal lord and savior, or you could be excited that god is going to send them to hell for being unbelievers. When, in reality, the building collapsed and killed 1,100+ innocent men and women because the greed of the factory owner was so entrenched in his thoughts, he literally couldn't see the columns of the building collapsing around him, even when building inspectors were actually pointing to the cracks right in front of him. God had nothing to do with this, and Satan had nothing to do with this. A greedy factory owner had everything to do with this.

    So, while no doubt Christians may be happier than Atheists at first appearance, I guess for me it's the underlying cause of that happiness you're feeling. Are you happy because things are going well, or are you happy the tragedies of the word "prove" your belief system? I think there's a twisted mess of this going on inside a whole heck of a lot of Christian minds out there.

    July 17, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
  15. bp

    "The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact than a drunken man is happier than a sober one." – G.B. Shaw

    July 17, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
    • MasterWooten

      The stupidity of Shaw's statement is born in the fact that the believer refrains from drunkenness leaving that the unbeliever thereby making him twice the misfortunate one!

      July 17, 2013 at 9:25 pm |
    • Roger Davis

      A-fricking-Men!

      July 17, 2013 at 9:33 pm |
  16. Michael

    This is the worst research I have seen lately. The problem is certainly the people they used to determine if someone was a Christian or an Atheist. I could give lists of famous Christians and famous Atheist that would have the results reversed.

    July 17, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
  17. albie

    ignorance is bliss i guess

    July 17, 2013 at 11:00 am |
    • MasterWooten

      Ignorance is the fool who says "there is no God."

      July 17, 2013 at 9:26 pm |
      • In Santa we trust

        Ignorance is the delusion that a god exists despite no evidence for and plenty of evidence against the gods described in religions.

        July 17, 2013 at 9:52 pm |
  18. Post a comment

    100 hours for 7 seconds... literal weeks for 2.

    All the time in the world... you people.

    July 17, 2013 at 6:14 am |
    • Post a comment

      The 7s and 100h are the same thing, like music playing, like a song, a thrill of a lifetime, twice.

      Nothing could never compare.

      July 17, 2013 at 7:58 am |
  19. Post a comment

    2 letters:

    J
    C

    What does it mean?

    July 17, 2013 at 5:48 am |
    • Post a comment

      Always a reason... this could take weeks to figure out.

      July 17, 2013 at 5:51 am |
  20. Maya

    Zealous Atheists resemble religious fanatics.

    July 17, 2013 at 12:56 am |
    • To believe or not to believe

      Zealous = Fanatic

      July 17, 2013 at 6:45 am |
    • albie

      and about time someone is willing to stand up to the crazy religious freaks

      July 17, 2013 at 11:01 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.