The authors of the analysis wrote that whether religious people experience more or less happiness is an important question in itself, however, to understand how religion and happiness are related it must also be understood why the two are may be related.
To identify Christian and atheist Twitter users, the researchers studied the tweets of more than 16,000 followers of a few prominent Christian and atheist personalities on Twitter.
They analyzed the tweets for their emotional content (the use of more positive or negative words), the frequency of words (like "friend" and "brother") that are related to social processes, and the frequency of their use of words (like "because" and "think") that are associated with an analytical thinking style.
Overall, tweets by Christians had more positive and less negative content than tweets by atheists, the researchers report. A less analytical thinking style among Christians and more frequent use of social words were correlated with the use of words indicating positive emotions, the researchers also said.
University of Illinois graduate student Ryan Ritter, who conducted the research with U. of I. psychology professor Jesse Preston and graduate student Ivan Hernandez, said that if religious people are indeed happier than nonreligious people, differences in social support and thinking style may help to explain why.
The findings are also in line with other studies linking greater levels of social connectedness to higher well-being, Ritter said.
Preston said that the 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.
He said that on the other hand, atheists had a more analytical thinking style in their tweets than Christians, which at extremes can make people less happy.
The findings have been reported in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.