Measuring Happiness Tweet by Tweet

Photo by Maggie Steber


Can happiness be measured in 140 characters or less? A new study suggests that it can. Researchers at the University of Vermont had volunteers rate the most popular words in the English language from one to nine on a “happiness scale.” Words associated with happiness had high scores–“laughter,” for example rated 8.50–while negative words received a low score (e.g. “terrorist” at 1.30). Then, the researchers looked at the frequency of happy and unhappy words used by 63 million Twitter users worldwide  to get an overall sense of how happiness has trended on a global scale over the last three years. Among the results:

  • Overall, there has been a decline in average happiness over the last three years based on the language used in tweets.
  • Happiness tends to peak on weekends and is at its lowest level on Mondays and Tuesdays.
  • On your typical day, happiness tends to drop from morning to night.
  • Holidays like Christmas, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July show spikes in happiness, as do some major events, like the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
  • Bad news, from the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan earlier this year to the deaths of stars such as Michael Jackson and Patrick Swayze, produce brief, measurable drops in happiness. News of the 2009 swine flu pandemic resulted in a very unusual week-long drop.

The complete study is available in the journal PLos ONE.

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Human Journey

Since 2005, Michael has been a librarian at National Geographic.