Is there a link between religion and happiness? Study finds Christians tweet more cheerfully than atheists
- Researchers found that Christians use fewer negative words than atheists when tweeting
- Atheists use more analytical language on Twitter than Christians
- Researchers think that differences in social support and thinking style could help find out whether religious people are happier than atheists
Christians use more positive words and engage in less analytical tweeting than atheists, according to new university research.
Computer analysis of nearly two million tweets has found that Christians use fewer negative words and are more likely to talk about their social relationships than atheists on Twitter.
The research was carried out by University of Illinois graduate student Ryan Ritter, alongside fellow graduate student Ivan Hernandez and psychology professor Jesse Preston.
The findings are reported in the journal of Social Psychological & Personality Science.
They analysed the tweets for their emotional content, such as the use of positive and negative words as well as the frequency of words such as ‘friend’ and ‘brother’ that are related to social situations.
They also looked at the use of words such as ‘because’ and ‘think’ that are associated with an analytical thinking style.
The research found that overall, tweets by Christians had more positive and less negative content than tweets by atheists.
Christians used less analytical and more social words, which were correlated with the use of words indicating positive emotions, the researchers said.
‘If religious people are indeed happier than nonreligious people, differences in social support and thinking style may help to explain why,’ said University of Illinois graduate student Ryan.
He believes that the findings are in line with other studies linking greater levels of social connectedness to higher well-being.
Professor Preston said: ‘Religious communities are very social. Just being a member of a religious group connects people to others, and it may be this social connection that can make people happier.
‘On the other hand, atheists had a more analytical thinking style in their tweets than Christians, which at extremes can make people less happy.’
Previous research has found a positive association between religion and well-being among Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims.
However, most of the studies has relied on individuals to tell researchers about how satisfied they are with their lives or their emotional state at a given time.
Professor Preston said: “What’s great about Twitter is that people are reporting their experiences – good or bad – as they occur.’
‘As researchers, we do not need to ask them how they feel because they are already telling us.’
While the authors have drawn their conclusions that Christians appear to be happier than atheists on Twitter, they are careful to say that their results are based on observing correlations.
Professor Preston said: ‘this does not mean atheists are unhappy overall or doomed to be miserable.’
‘If religion improves happiness indirectly through other factors, those benefits could also be found outside religious groups.’
The research was partially funded by The John Templeton Foundation, which aids research relating to the ‘big questions of human purpose and ultimate reality’.