Atheism and happiness

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CNN reported that Christians are happier than atheists - on Twitter.[1]

CNN reported about atheism and happiness:

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.[2]

Happiness: British non-religious vs. British religious

Atheists have a higher suicide rate than theists.[3] Please see: Atheism and suicide

The Telegraph reported:

...new analysis of findings from Britain’s national happiness index suggest that religion really can make people more content with their lot.

According to figures published as part of the Office for National Statistics (ONS) “well-being” research programme people, people who say they have no religious affiliation report lower levels of happiness, life satisfaction and self-worth than those who do.

Yet, conversely, non-religious Britons also report lower levels of anxiety than adherents to the main faiths.

The finding emerges from figures which also show a link between age and happiness...

A typical Briton scores their life satisfaction as 7.53 out of 10 and their happiness the previous day as 7.38, when the figures over the first four years of the scheme are averaged out.

But those who describe themselves as having no religion typically score their happiness slightly below average, at 7.22 out of 10.

That compares with 7.33 for Muslims and 7.37 for Jewish people, rising to 7.47 for Christians, who were just ahead of Sikhs on 7.45.[4]

In December 2003, the University of Warwick reported:

Dr. Stephen Joseph, from the University of Warwick, said: "Religious people seem to have a greater purpose in life, which is why they are happier. Looking at the research evidence, it seems that those who celebrate the Christian meaning of Christmas are on the whole likely to be happier.[5]
See also: Atheism and Christmas

Ex-atheist C.S. Lewis: Surprised by Joy

See also: Atheism and joy

The ex-atheist C.S. Lewis in his book Surprised by Joy, wrote:

Joy, must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and Pleasure. Joy has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again...I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is.[6]

China, economic growth and a decline in happiness

Most atheists live in East Asia (see: Asian atheism and Atheist population).

China has the world's largest atheist population.[7][8]

China has the world's largest atheist population.[9][10]

In 2012, Time magazine reporting on a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by a team from the University of Southern California headed by economist Richard Easterlin:

Despite an unprecedented rate of economic growth, China’s life satisfaction over the past two decades has largely followed the trajectory seen in the central- and eastern-European transition countries — a decline followed by a recovery, with no change or a declining trend over the period as a whole. There is no evidence of a marked increase in life satisfaction in China of the magnitude that might have been expected based on the fourfold increase in the level of per capita consumption during that period. In its transition, China has shifted from one of the most egalitarian countries in terms of distribution of life satisfaction to one of the least egalitarian. Life satisfaction has declined markedly in the lowest-income and least-educated segments of the population, while rising somewhat in the upper (socioeconomic status) stratum.[11]

Time magazine also indicated:

While China’s poorest are increasingly unhappy, it’s unlikely that the country will see Arab Spring–like unrest and revolt. The problems are too diffuse and the state security organs too adept at clamping down on acts of dissent that have the potential for wider appeal. But on a local level, protest is widespread, averaging about 500 a day nationwide, according to economist Niu Wenyuan, an adviser to China’s State Council.[12]

Pew Research: religious Americans, less religious Americans and happiness

Pew Research reports:

A new Pew Research Center study of the ways religion influences the daily lives of Americans finds that people who are highly religious are more engaged with their extended families, more likely to volunteer, more involved in their communities and generally happier with the way things are going in their lives.

Highly religious adults not distinctive in interpersonal interactions, health, social consciousnessFor example, nearly half of highly religious Americans – defined as those who say they pray every day and attend religious services each week – gather with extended family at least once or twice a month.1 By comparison, just three-in-ten Americans who are less religious gather as frequently with their extended families. Roughly two-thirds of highly religious adults (65%) say they have donated money, time or goods to help the poor in the past week, compared with 41% who are less religious. And 40% of highly religious U.S. adults describe themselves as “very happy,” compared with 29% of those who are less religious.[13]

Irreligious countries with a Protestant cultural heritage

See also: Protestant cultural legacies

Due to the history of the Protestant Reformation, significant Protestant populations can be found in Denmark, Estonia, Finland, the northern part of Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the east, north and west of Switzerland.[14]

All the above countries are developed countries. And when looking at any economic prosperity of the above countries and any positive effects that prosperity causes or other positive cultural attributes, one has to consider cultural legacy of Protestantism and the Protestant work ethic in these countries.

Harvard University historian Niall Ferguson declared: "Through a mixture of hard work and thrift the Protestant societies of the North and West Atlantic achieved the most rapid economic growth in history."[15]

Studies and happiness and irreligious countries with Protestant cultural legacies

Various studies within the Western World indicate that atheism is negatively correlated with physical and mental health (see: Atheism and health, Atheism and depression, Atheism and suicide, Atheism and alcoholism, and Atheism and drug addiction).

As noted above, although it is certainly not the only variable related to a person's overall happiness, happiness is positively correlated to wealth.[16]

Psychology Today declares:

According to Gallup data for 2010, the happiest nations were Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and the Netherlands. These are among the least religious countries in the world. Also according to Gallup data, Sweden, Denmark and Norway were the second, third, and fourth least religious states, being exceeded only by Estonia in their atheism.

Why are these European countries so happy? Their happiness is explainable in terms of a combination of national wealth and redistribution of resources via high taxation and a well-developed welfare state. So paying taxes makes people happy after all!

It is not the actual payment of taxes that cheers citizens of course but the end result of good government which is to say a secure standard of living for everyone.

In the jargon of religious studies, the European social democracies provide existential security. No one has to worry about being arbitrarily dismissed from their job and running out of money for basic necessities.

The principle source of European happiness is also the main reason for their unprecedented level of atheism. As detailed in an earlier post, when countries become more affluent, and their people acquire greater material security, their religious temperature nose dives.[17]

Flawed conclusion of Psychological Today article

As noted above, due to the history of the Protestant Reformation, significant Protestant populations can be found in Denmark, Estonia, Finland, the northern part of Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the east, north and west of Switzerland.[18]

When atheist and secular leftist apologists cite various favorable economic and societal statistics of irreligious countries which formerly had a strong presence of Protestantism (typically in Northern Europe), they generally do not mention the issue of the effects of cultural legacies (For example, what factors in their past best explain their current prosperity?).

Next, since there is a significant amount of data indicating that religiosity is positively correlated to physical and mental health (see: Atheism and health, Atheism and depression, Atheism and suicide, Atheism and alcoholism, and Atheism and drug addiction). There is the issue of comparing apples to apples and oranges to oranges. Namely, a legitimate question is: How much happier or less happier are the religious within irreligious countries that have significant Protestant populations, than the irreligious in those same countries or do they have the same degree of happiness?.

In short, well-designed studies which attempt to form solid conclusions use the principle of ceteris paribus (all other things remaining equal). This is done by choosing appropriate study participants and using statistical analysis to isolate variables related to the socioeconomic profiles of study participants (Generalized linear model analysis, etc.).

Irish author and journalist Mary Kenny says most atheists are gloomy blighters

See also: Atheism and meaninglessness and Atheism, agnosticism and pessimism

The Irish author, playwright and journalist Mary Kenny wrote in The Guardian:

Far from relaxing and enjoying life, most atheists I have encountered are gloomy blighters with a depressing and nihilistic message that there is no purpose to life so where's the point of anything? They so often fall into the category defined by GK Chesterton: "Those that do not have the faith/Will not have the fun." You only have to attend one of their dreary humanist funerals to see that – I am never going to another of those, just to be made miserable.[19]

See also

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