According to our collective tweets, we are all unhappier than we used to be.
If you follow the types of people that I follow, your response might be "Duh." Cynicism, anger, and even depression are the lifeblood of Twitter, right? It's what makes the Twitterverse turn. But there has to be enough expression of joy and jubilation to counteract all of those negative Nancies, right?
Apparently, no. Our Twitter activity shows that we are all unhappier than we were just a few years ago. But let's back up for a second. How did anyone possibly research this?
Individual happiness is a fundamental societal metric. Normally measured through self-report, happiness has often been indirectly characterized and overshadowed by more readily quantifiable economic indicators such as gross domestic product. Here, we examine expressions made on the online, global microblog and social networking service Twitter, uncovering and explaining temporal variations in happiness and information levels over timescales ranging from hours to years.
That's pulled from the abstract of a University of Vermont study that was published this month in PloSONE. The team analyzed tweets for three years, combing through more than 46 billion individual words typed by over 63 million Twitter users around the world.
The 10,000 or so most common words spoken on Twitter were painstakingly rated by volunteers based on their level of "happiness" on a scale of one to nine. The researchers called these ratings the "emotional temperature," and said that "like billions of moving atoms add up to the overall temperature of a room, billions of words used to express what people are feeling resolve into a view of the relative mood of large groups."
For instance, the word "laughter" received a pretty high score of 8.5. A word like "truck" is neutral and got a score of 5.48. Negative words like "greed" received lower scores (3.06).
Because many tweets have location data and all of them have timestamps, the researchers were able to analyze patterns in "happiness" across the past three years.
According to the analyzed data, the happiest dates were Christmas Day 2008, 2009, and 2010. That was followed closely by Christmas Eve. Fourth of July (in America), Easter, and Thanksgiving were also relatively happy days. The only non-annual event that was a truly positive day outlier was the royal wedding in April of 2011.
Some of the most "unhappy" instances according to Twitter revolved around the U.S. bank bailouts, the Chilean miner incident, and the Japanese earthquake and subsequent tsunami.
But you can see the general decline. We are a sad, sad bunch.
Of course, this study is just taking into account Twitter users - so it could be that folks who use Twitter are getting down in the dumps. But Twitter is a fairly universal service nowadays. What do you think? Can the world's happiness level be quantified using social media posts?[I appreciate the level of detail given to the research. This is a gem:
One arguably false finding of a cultural event being negative was the finale of the last season of the highly rated television show ‘Lost’, marked by a drop in our time series on May 24, 2010, and in part due to the word ‘lost’ having a low happiness score of = 2.76, but also to an overall increase in negative words on that date.] [Via PsychCentral]