I have encountered many religious believers, mostly Christians, who insist that their god belief is the key to their happiness. Several have suggested that atheists cannot be truly happy because we lack their god belief. When I disagree, they usually ask me if I am happy in a challenging tone as if anything would be proved by my answer. I usually point this out as an example of erroneous generalization from one experience (i.e., mine) to the entire atheist community. But as the lesson on reasoning continues, we rarely seem to get back to the original question. Am I happy?

Happy is not the word I'd pick to describe how I feel the majority of the time. To be sure, there have been periods of my life I would have characterized as happy at the time and would continue do so now retrospectively. For example, I recall being quite happy during my last couple years of high school and most of college. I didn't have much real responsibility. I didn't have other people counting on me who I could let down if I screwed up. I worked hard, but I played harder. I did some really stupid things, but I wouldn't change most of them. And I was an atheist throughout this time. In fact, I had the luxury of being far more open about my atheism then than I have since then.

I wouldn't say I'm unhappy now either. If I had to pick one word to describe how I feel much of the time, it would be "content." I certainly have my ups and downs, but I am generally content most of the time. I usually feel like I have enough to get by, and I've learned that chasing wealth or material possessions does not make me happier. I've also learned that negative emotions, including bouts of depression, are part of life. At least, they are part of my life. This seems to be part of the price I pay for being a thinker. But I have also learned that things like intellectual curiosity, fun, exploration, and drive are important parts of my life. I'm more even-tempered than I used to be, and that's a good thing.

I have little doubt that I would be somewhat happier now if I could be more open about my atheism and lived in an area where I had the opportunity to be around other atheists. But I also know that I've always been a touch pessimistic, more than a little misanthropic, and a bit of a pain in the ass. I do not feel a pressing urge to restart my career in a different location. At least for now, I'm willing to take contentment instead of chasing happiness.

Can an atheist be truly happy without god belief? Sure. I have been at times, and many are now. Am I currently the happiest I've ever been? No, not by a long shot. But that's okay. I'm generally content, and I'll take it.