A recent study conducted by a pair of doctoral students and an adviser at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that “When they are limited to 140 characters or less…believers are happier than their counterparts.”
The researchers studied almost 2 million tweets from over 16,000 users to come to their conclusion which was published in Social Psychological and Personality Science. When it was all said and done they had almost 900,000 tweets from more than 7500 Christians, and more than a million tweets from roughly 8700 atheists. When it was all said and done University of Illinois psychologist and professing atheist Ryan Ritter said:
“Christians express more happiness than atheists in everyday language… Our results reveal important psychological differences between believers and nonbelievers, and also suggest reasons why believers may be happier than nonbelievers in general.”
Using a text analysis program called Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count, they found that Atheists expressed more negative emotions and fewer positive one than the Christian tweeters. The atheists tweeted with a more analytical or critical style while the Christians tweeted with “an emotional” bent that is more characterized by certainty.
The tweeting research also seemed to suggest that Christians talked a lot more about “social process” than atheist tweeters, and that that in itself is associated with more happiness. “[This is] consistent with the hypothesis that religion promotes social support and social connectivity.”
The researchers (and its detractors) are quick to point out that their research is not definitive, and that there are other factors that are involved in calculating a person’s “happiness.” They also note that their research methods could not be exhaustive due to the size and scope of the information being studies. However, Ritter does believe that much can be learned through their twitter research.
While being religious or atheist does not in and of itself mean you will be happy or unhappy, there is a definite correlation between the belief systems and the attitudes that are an outgrowth of those systems. Ritter believes that atheists can become “happier” by “creating strong social support networks,” similar to what someone may find by being active in a local church congregation.
To atheist detractors who believe that the study was somehow flawed or that the correlation drawn is erroneous, Ritter has this to say, “This is not an assumption; this is the pattern we observed in the data.”
The debate over why believers seem to be happier than non-believers will continue to rage so long as science continues to notice a strong correlation between belief and happiness. Everyone wants to be “happier,” and work like this becomes controversial because it makes people feel as though something is wrong with their belief (or unbelief) system. It’s an extremely personal thing to say, “These people are happier than you because of their belief system.” In a way, I think it makes people feel as though their beliefs are inferior… which I personally believe is true.
Atheism is inferior to Christianity.
But what do I know? I’m just a really happy guy.