How happy are we? Facebook has the answer

Last week, Facebook unveiled its Gross National Happiness Index, which was developed by a couple of engineers working on the social networking site's data team.

In a nutshell, Facebook has been tracking the positive and negative words that are included in the status updates that are regularly posted to the site by its members. When people use more positive words or fewer negative words on a particular day, then that day as a whole is counted as happier than usual. By aggregating the data over all the English-speaking U.S.-based members, they come up with the Gross National Happiness Index or GNHI.

To compile the data, the engineers used a collection of "emotion words" chosen by social psychologists. Examples of happy words include "yay", "happy", and "awesome", while negative or unhappy words include "sad", "doubt" and "tragic". They also conducted a brief survey to test the overriding theory behind the GNHI and found that people that used more positive than negative words did indeed report higher satisfaction with their lives.

Facebook plotted the U.S. GNHI over time and came up with some interesting results. Perhaps more interesting though, are the separate data tracks of positivity and negativity, a snapshot of which is shown below. Not surprisingly, Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year all feature as some of the happiest times of the year, although all three days also feature significant negative spikes as well. Valentine's Day is another happy peak, as is July 4th and most of the other national holidays.

Facebook also reports that November 5, 2008, the day after the election of President Barack Obama, was over twice as happy as the average Wednesday. (However, his inauguration was easily beaten out in the happiness stakes by the Super Bowl, which took place a couple of weeks later!)

The unhappiest days? According to Facebook, the least happiest day since they began tracking was January 22, 2008, the day the Asian stock market crashed and also the day that the actor Heath Ledger died. The next unhappiest day was June 25 of this year, the day Michael Jackson died.

Although the results are obviously skewed by the various demographics of Facebook members, the engineers claim this has diminished over time as more people have joined the network and the sample sizes have increased. Clearly, Facebook has the opportunity to further fine-tune the model given the massive amounts of data at its disposal.

In the meantime, be aware that whatever you post will have a tiny but measurable impact on the happiness of Facebook nation. Yay, let's have a happy, awesome day!

Comment by carolyn , posted 10/20/2009, 4:25 PM:

Good short article to read about Happiness and Unhappiness. Found it interesting as to what days were happy and what days were not Happy!!
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