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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. Robin

    Amazing. The study follows 5 atheists and thinks that's ALL atheists on Twitter.

    Nonsense.

    October 17, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
  2. Bob

    Aren't Christians always happy? You can always tell a Christian if they are a lot happier than other people.

    October 10, 2013 at 4:18 am |
  3. SHOCKWAVE

    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,”

    Okay so saying think, reason and question, is a negative? Okay How about this, I LOVE the idea that humans use REASON and QUESTION the world around them. I am HAPPY went christians try to tell me I am BAD. I think its AWFUL when a FAMILY finds out that one of there own is an athiest and they cast them out. This is one of the stupidest studies ever done.

    September 6, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
    • mjbrin

      amen! 🙂

      September 11, 2013 at 10:08 am |
  4. theclaypipe

    Firstly they were following tweets from prominent atheists who would be tweeting about why religion is wrong. They are not following the twitter accounts of everyday atheists who would generally be tweeting about their lives. Secondly these atheists are tweeting about this stuff to fight against the constant stream of nonsense that is inflicted on us by religious people.

    They have done studies before that show that yes people who are part of organized religions are happier. But the reason for this isn’t because there is such a thing as God and he is giving them a happy life because they believe in him. It is because they are part of a large group of people who will help them out and talk to them when they have problems. It is a fact that one of the keys to happiness is having a good support network. Of course you can never know if these religious people are helping you because if feels like the right thing to do or because they think it would make their invisible friend happy.

    August 4, 2013 at 8:21 am |
    • kagehi

      Actually, no, you can know. All you have to do is talk to enough people that tried to "get" help from friends and relatives, or members of their church, after having done something that went against their specific dogmas. While it might not be true of all of them, a mix of fear (both of their god, and of being shunned along with the person that went against their beliefs), peer pressure, and just general group thinking, does drive most of them to turning on someone that fails them, often more aggressively than they would a murderer in their own ranks (who, after all, may be following the dogma, and claiming to be saved).

      The thing with groups is.. They can imagine everyone "outside" as being all part of a bigger group, who are just sort of a bit confused, or they can see them as an enemy. If your church group is of the latter stripe, then... making a mistake in their eyes is only less dangerous today, than it was a few hundred years ago, because they stopped drowning people, and burning them at the stake. Otherwise.. failing them is the same as becoming part of that big "other" group – "the enemy".

      And, even I have seen this, myself, indirectly with various people I know that believe in religion. Heck, it even happened with my brother, when he was still thinking there was something worthwhile in attending, in which the church's "Christian Charity" failed them so badly that they very nearly lynched a man, who came in, desperately crying for help, because he knew his drinking had gotten so bad he needed help, and he made the mistake of a) assuming the people in the church gave a damn, and b) asking for it while in fact drunk. He was "interrupting" them, and thus, not someone worthy of help, just a pest. My brother was the only one that ever attempted to help, instead of throwing him out, and he we already well on his way to rejecting the whole edifice of faux compassion, cherry picked ideals, and situational ethics, that religion keeps insisting its the opposite of, at the time.

      August 4, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
  5. Angry Agnostic

    “At that greatest of all spectacles, that last and eternal judgment how shall I admire, how laugh, how rejoice, how exult, when I behold so many proud monarchs groaning in the lowest abyss of darkness; so many magistrates liquefying in fiercer flames than they ever kindled against the Christians; so many sages philosophers blushing in red-hot fires with their deluded pupils; so many tragedians more tuneful in the expression of their own sufferings; so many dancers tripping more nimbly from anguish then ever before from applause."

    This is a quote from Tertullian, a highly respected early Christian theologian who is referenced to this very day and recommended even by Rick Warren. Though certainly over 1800 yrs old, this disgusting quote has SILL CONFIRMED TO BE CIRCULATING REGULARLY in many Protestant sermons in the US, mostly Lutheran, Calvinist, and to my surprise, to the greatest extent, Baptist.

    Apparently, their happiness, which they just asserted to exceed that of nonbelievers, is a form of sadistic giddiness at the expense of others. Despite my name, I am a very happy non-believer. If this is how a heightened level of happiness is obtained I'd rather be in a state of miserable despair, and I'm not being sanctimonious here.

    July 31, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
    • the road crew knew

      "Despite my name, I am a very happy non-believer."

      Sure.

      You need Jesus's 12 apostle program.

      August 3, 2013 at 3:32 am |
      • the road crew knew

        It's obvious, I wasn't born yesterday.

        August 3, 2013 at 3:36 am |
        • Angry Agnostic

          ..........you weren't born *AGAIN* yesterday!!!!

          Y'all knew that was coming!

          August 3, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
  6. Pancakes

    The reason is simple: we get God for the creator, while those that reject him, get nothing. Of course they are not happy getting nothing, but they still demand nothing anyway.

    July 31, 2013 at 5:28 am |
    • Angry Agnostic

      It can get really frustrating having to hear this kind of arrogant sanctimony and babble from "humble" Christians all the time. It is impossible to reject something that has no reasonable evidence for its existence. Your heart pumps blood, and is not the personal dwelling of the literal spirit of your perceived personal savior.

      Jesus, as portrayed in the Gospels, even if the "empty tomb" story was an established historical truth (which in reality, it is far from that), would have left clear and undeniable physical evidence behind. I mean real evidence too, not the Catholic "Shroud of Turin" facade. There would be records of his trial left behind by the Romans, and depictions of his miracles that would have been dated IN THE SAME PERIOD they took place.

      The God of Abraham, specifically when donning the "Christian" pants, is asking quite a lot of us when he doesn't, at the very minimum, provide us with this kind of evidence. What REAL evidence did he provide to you that is denied to me?

      July 31, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
      • Pancakes

        My understanding of the text, Pilate said he didn't see Jesus as being guilty of anything, so it's not clear that they'd record his crucifixtion as he'd broken no Roman laws and no one was harmed by Jesus being there. Jesus appears to have been executed to make the high priests happy, and avoid a local riot they were inciting. The soldiers the night they took Jesus, were likely lead around by the high priests.

        Real evidence: a bible full of accounts of those there at the time.

        August 8, 2013 at 1:37 am |
    • kagehi

      "For the living know that they will die,
      but the dead know nothing;
      they have no further reward,
      and even their name is forgotten.
      6 Their love, their hate
      and their jealousy have long since vanished;
      never again will they have a part
      in anything that happens under the sun."

      Yeah.. Sorry, but your own bible says you get nothing either. Well.. until they later made up heaven and hell, so there would be a) some reason for people to bother believing, and b) some sort of cost for not doing so. But, you know, its not like that was tacked on at the very end, by a church that murdered every other believer that disagreed with this new vision or anything...

      July 31, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
  7. kagehi

    Because, of course, no one would, for example, be using all those words to either a) try to convince themselves, b) try to present, to themselves and others, a false perception that they are happier than everyone else around them, or c) just be culturally more inclined to use positive words, because negative ones are seen as "sin". Nope.. has to be because they are more happy...

    That being said.. for happy people, the only thing I see them do more often than try to excuse every failure, fault, or misstep that they, or someone else, makes, as either "planned", or "because the person in question failed god somehow", is complain about how everyone else in the world is misguided and suffering.

    But, even if it was true: "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 27, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
  8. boumbette

    Who follows Hitchens? That's weird (he didn't tweet when he was alive). Have they been working on this for 5 years?

    I'm an atheist and I follow way more Christian nutjobs than atheists. Why would I follow just people who agree with me?

    This research is completely useless. It wouldn't fly as an undergrad study in many universities.

    I love you guys! Rainbows and butterflies!

    July 27, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
  9. Kade Azkyroth

    So, wait, the study's authors consider "think," "reason," and "question" to be "negative" words?

    Meh. Garbage in, garbage out.

    July 27, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
  10. Through the wormhole

    Did anyone ever see that episode of through the wormhole where the prayers showed activity in the frontal lobe, the meditation activity in the visual centers and the person without a belief system sitting calmly had no change in brain activity.

    Well if electrical activity is funneled into the frontal lobe (by praying for example) then it is taken away from the amygdala.

    With anxiety and stress the opposite happens electrical energy is funneled away from the frontal lobe and into the amygdala which increases fight or flight response.

    I'd guess that atheists would use a different format entirely like logic puzzles or equations to combat stress.

    July 26, 2013 at 5:56 am |
  11. Why we're happy

    We get to read the words of God.

    July 23, 2013 at 3:52 am |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I can't let you do that

      I've read the Bible. I didn't so much like the latter part of the book which is more like all preachy talking, than fighting and the old in-out. I liked the parts where these old yahoodies tolchock each other and then drink their Hebrew vino and, then getting on to the bed with their wives' handmaidens. That kept me going.

      July 23, 2013 at 4:49 am |
      • Angry Agnostic

        Especially the part where Jesus performs an exorcism and casts the demons into a herd of 2000 pigs, thus compelling them to hurl themselves off of a cliff in unison. If I could only get myself to believe that, the sensations of spiritual bliss and rapture would be mine. Don't let my name mislead you, the natural world is quite enough to instill awe, and inspire feelings of joy far more powerful than the baseless and often nonsensical consolations offered by faith.

        July 23, 2013 at 10:59 am |
  12. Jason

    Ignorance is Bliss

    July 19, 2013 at 8:08 am |
  13. Mark

    I'm no astrophysicist so when the experts say the Earth is 150 million km from the sun and that the speed of light is 299792.458 km/s, I take them at their word. They are witnesses to these truths. They seem sincere and have credentials. When the same scientists speak about God, they are no longer speaking as a scientist but as a philosopher, a theologian. The scientists have witnessed to what they know, and Jesus has witnessed to the things he knows to be true.

    July 19, 2013 at 7:54 am |
    • Angry Agnostic

      Ah, I could be wrong, but this looks like a derivative of the faulty "Jesus knocking at the door of my heart" strategy so often employed by W.L. Craig. This whole "the Earth being 4.5 byo instead of 6000 yo still doesn't change the fact that Jesus revealed himself to me and you atheists will reap that which you sow" thing is thoroughly solipsistic. Personal experiences such as these cannot possibly be verified, or even tested. The same reasoning can be used for any other theistic concept. This also leaves me well within my means to say you are mistaken, lying or hallucinating.

      Before anyone replies, please refrain from any of the following solipsisms: "the fact of Jesus' existence is written in the hearts of all of humanity and your judgement is clouded by the Devil", or "biblical criticism is grounded on lies from Satan". Hanuman and Allah have knocked on peoples' hearts as well, you think you have eternal life because Jesus happened to be the one knocking in your case?

      July 22, 2013 at 6:24 pm |
  14. Mushy kissy type soft hearted stuff is the best

    Well I'm certain this is where I should be. I am in love with God. Can you feel it? It is there, really, but you have to search for it. Search for the love of God, not skip over it looking for science projects and such. God created all those things, you don't have to worry about them. Study God's word and show yourself approved. And not be one of those quick reads uncaring types, like in those other uncaring blog articles, where they don't care about what he wants or give him credit for being God.

    The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, he is God. He is the only one, the only God there is. And he sent his only begotten son Jesus Christ of Nazareth to die for our sins, if you believe him and repent, and do the will of God.

    July 19, 2013 at 2:49 am |
    • Mushy kissy type soft hearted stuff is the best

      They write equation love letters to nothing, expecting nothing to write back. They talk about nothing all the time. They are in love with nothing. They date science projects and write long letters about their dates. It is silly and sad that they never knew love of God, because they wanted nothing more than the one who made everything, God.

      July 19, 2013 at 5:40 am |
      • Mushy kissy type soft hearted stuff is the best

        Do you want more of this? I can do it if you have the stomach for it. Talking mushy is for the big boys, not you wimpy type nothing lovers and science day dreamers. What has nothing done for you, ever? Really, nothing has never done anything and you know it. So why are you in love with nothing? Ask yourself this when you date your next science project and write equations to it.

        Most of the articles on this blog are centered around rejection of God and people wanting nothing. That is so lame. When you could be in love with God, you want nothing. Give it a rest, go for the best, God. Find and love God, that is what's important. Seriously.

        July 19, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
        • mikrogram

          I'd rather be in love with something physical, than something metaphysical.

          When you say that you are in love with god, you are in fact in love with nothing.

          God is an imaginary friend for grown ups.

          July 20, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
        • Mushy kissy type soft hearted stuff is the best

          It is being in love with God, him making everything, him wanting the optimum by saying what sin is and to avoid it, to do good. Then because everyone fails, he sends his son Jesus to pay the price if people believe him, repent and do what God wants done. The Holy Spirit too, that interacion God and Jesus have through the Holy Spirit. The angels too, they've done things all through history, they're recorded in the bible too, as are the prophets and followers dying rather than denying God. All those and what God said, the incredible things he said, things that outclass ever other book out there for content... words from God himself. You can't get that anywhere else. It's right there, fall in love.

          July 20, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
        • Angry Agnostic

          The dialogue is exactly the same in the context of those who say "Allahu Akbar". If you're not wearing your special undergarments per the revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith, how can one remain so smug while so vulnerable to temptation to demonic spirits? The people who accept that same message would speak of you it the exact same tone you have used.

          Also, may Lord Hanuman bless you to become successful in everything you do.

          July 23, 2013 at 11:14 am |
        • Mushy kissy type soft hearted stuff is the best

          Yuck, I don't want any Joseph Smith's Allah Akbars. You can have those. What I want is:

          1. Jesus Christ of Nazareth dying and raising again for the sins of others that believe him and repent of their sins
          2. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the creator of everything, the entire universe, that's all his stuff out there everywhere and here.
          3. The Holy Spirit
          4. To do God's will

          That and the recent sunny days and absolutely fantastic apples yesterday... yes! Those too, thank you God.

          Oh ya, and softened hearts, more of them, that will work better.

          July 25, 2013 at 4:44 pm |
  15. Devout Atheist

    "Christians tweet from the heart, atheists from the head..."

    I'll happily agree with that assessment. Christians happiness/kindness are eerily similar to a cheerleaders smile. Sure they smile more (in a blank, brainwashed, and vacant kinda way), but their smiles are less sincere than your average human being. Same thing is true with the happiness of Christians.

    July 18, 2013 at 9:15 pm |
    • Robert

      Slighlty desturbed that people make a difference between Christians and Humans. Thats how it started back in good ol' aitheist USSR. Yikes.

      July 19, 2013 at 4:27 am |
      • Angry Agnostic

        All mass-killers, Stalin (Yes, Atheist), Pol-Pot (a Buddhist), Hitler (Catholic) have established their genocidal actions on purely dogmatic grounds. The belief or rejection in god/gods was irrelevant. I'm being generous enough to give you the option to concede your false argument now, but I can further demolish it if you wish.

        July 22, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
    • Ummm

      Atheism means you don't believe gods exist D.A., it doesn't exist just so you can pick a random god and hate its followers.

      July 21, 2013 at 6:17 am |
  16. Devout Atheist

    I think another reason for this is that Christians like to put on a happy face to the outside world and internalize their less than happy thoughts until they implode. Atheists on the other hand are much more willing to show their true selves to the world and in turn come across as generally less happy when odds are good they are generally more happy with their lives because they live it out in the open.

    July 18, 2013 at 9:11 pm |
    • James

      That's complete speculation. It's also demonstrably false, it is a fact that that atheists have more depression and commit suicide more often.

      July 19, 2013 at 1:58 am |
    • Robert

      I would like to see some type of data backing that up. Otherwise, it's just internet trolling, and classic over generilization.

      July 19, 2013 at 4:29 am |
    • Ummm

      The important thing D.A. is that you believe it's true without a shred of evidence, right?

      July 21, 2013 at 6:19 am |
      • Angry Agnostic

        If only the Bible concluded with "the entire contents of this book are all fabrications", then we'd be so much better off. This is because they believe the Bible is true because it says so in the Bible. This is sub-childish reasoning here, yet it's terrifyingly implemented by many of our Politicians.

        July 31, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
  17. Daniel

    Pythagoras, Aristotle, Plato, etc. were ancient people, too.

    July 18, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
  18. Mustafaa Abdallah

    The opening sentence says that "Christians tweet from the heart, atheists from the head,...", interestingly enough, "christians" speak all the time about man's evil heart; Mark 7:21. Makes one ponder in Truth. Truth bless.

    July 18, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
  19. John W.

    A ridiculous "study," but the old adage applies: "(The) Ignorance (of Christians) is Bliss"

    July 18, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
    • Devout Atheist

      I was thinking the same thing regarding "Ignorance is bliss."

      To each his own though. If it truly makes them live better, happier, more rewarding lives who am I to judge them.

      Personally however, to paraphrase a line out of the Matrix: "I choose the real world over the dream world."

      July 18, 2013 at 9:33 pm |
  20. Universe

    Quran says (Islamic Scripture)

    “The example of Jesus, as far as GOD is concerned, is the same as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him, "Be," and he was.” Quran [3:59]

    “They say , "We live only this life; we will not be resurrected. If you could only see them when they stand before their Lord! He would say, "Is this not the truth?" They would say, "Yes, by our Lord." He would say, "You have incurred the retribution by your disbelief." [6:30]

    “No soul can carry the sins of another soul. If a soul that is loaded with sins implores another to bear part of its load, no other soul can carry any part of it, even if they were related. ... [35:18]

    “They even attribute to Him sons and daughters, without any knowledge. Be He glorified. He is the Most High, far above their claims.” Quran [6:100]

    “Recall that your Lord said to the angels, "I am placing a representative on Earth." They said, "Will You place therein one who will spread evil therein and shed blood, while we sing Your praises, glorify You, and uphold Your absolute authority?" He said, "I know what you do not know." [2:30]

    It does not befit God that He begets a son, be He glorified. To have anything done, He simply says to it, "Be," and it is. [19:35]

    “We have honored the children of Adam, and provided them with rides on land and in the sea. We provided for them good provisions, and we gave them greater advantages than many of our creatures.” Quran [17:70]

    “O children of Adam, we have provided you with garments to cover your bodies, as well as for luxury. But the best garment is the garment of righteousness. These are some of God's signs, that they may take heed.” Quran [7:26]

    “O children of Adam, do not let the devil dupe you as he did when he caused the eviction of your parents from Paradise, and the removal of their garments to expose their bodies. He and his tribe see you, while you do not see them. We appoint the devils as companions of those who do not believe.” Quran [7:27]

    “O children of Adam, when messengers come to you from among you, and recite My revelations to you, those who take heed and lead a righteous life, will have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.” Quran [7:35]

    “Losers indeed are those who disbelieve in meeting God, until the Hour comes to them suddenly, then say, "We deeply regret wasting our lives in this world." They will carry loads of their sins on their backs; what a miserable load! [6:31]

    Thanks for taking time to read my post. Please take a moment to visit whyIslam org website.

    July 18, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
    • John W.

      Just another group-think drone spouting off quotes from other peoples' text. Our world would be a much better place in which to live if people actually thought for themselves instead of just regurgitating ancient and ignorant peoples' nonsense.

      July 18, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
      • Robert

        Yeah, like Aristotle, Descartes, and Freud, all those ancients, I hate it when people quote them. (Read with Sarcasm)

        July 19, 2013 at 4:31 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.