University of Vermont researchers have produced a novel and highly original piece of research to establish the different levels of happiness in different states of the US. Most happiness research is highly subjective, asking people to rate themselves in one of five categories ranging from very happy to very unhappy. The problem with this is that standards vary between people and sometimes over time for the same person. What the researchers did was to trawl through 10 million tweets looking for words that are markers for ‘happy’ or ‘unhappy,’ using the Mechanical Turk Language Assessment word list.
“The list includes 10,000 words that have been rated on a scale 1 to 10 according to how “happy” they are. On the lower end of the scale are negative words such as mad, hate, no, boo, smoke and jail, as well as a colorful and thorough assortment of expletives. Happy words include the omnipresent LOL and haha, as well as good, nice, sleep and wine, and food or beach related words.”
Of course the word list is open to question. I find that using profanity as a marker for unhappiness is highly questionable. I know many happy people who swear a lot. And the marginal propensity to tweet would influence the outcomes. Are Texas people really less happy than New Englanders, or do they just tweet less about it? Despite these reservations, the findings seem to be telling us something. It looks as though people in states with the most obesity problems are less prone to tweet ‘happy’ posts than those in the others. It looks as though the northeast states and the southwest post more ‘happy’ stuff than do the midwestern or southern states. (For those who don’t click the link, dark red indicates most happy and dark blue is less happy). It’s a fascinating new methodology.
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