As a nation, we’re not shy about expressing our feelings in public. When things happen – good or bad – we react en masse, pouring our heart out in blog comments and on social media. When it comes to tragic events in particular, Twitter is like the first responder on scene. People close to an event will begin Tweeting within minutes, long before the news crews have the story. From there, the circle grows and grows until the whole country is talking and reacting. It’s at that peak moment when the Hedonometer goes to work.
Hedonometer.org is an instrument that measures our populations mood in real time using social media reactions. At the moment, it’s all Twitter based but researchers Peter Dodds and Chris Danforth say the concept can be expanded so it works with any social media input.
In order to quantify the mood associated with a Tweet, the team assigned happiness scores to 5,000 common words. Words like laughter and love got high scores, words like death and tragedy got low scores. They factor this and factor that and come up with a chart that looks like this:
The full Hedonometer goes back to 2008. I cut a sample that includes just the past two years and still I had to shrink it considerably to fit the blog. Doesn’t matter, because all you need to see here is the general layout of the dots.
Throughout most of the year, we’re predictable. As a group we fall in the normal range of not exceedingly happy or sad. But look at the outliers. The high points are holidays – Christmas, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day. The next step down includes lesser holidays such as Mother’s Day and 4th of July.
Below that, Fridays and Saturdays get a lot of love.
On the underside of the line, we have some of America’s darkest days. At the far right of the chart we have the Boston Marathon bombing and the Newton, Connecticut school shooting.
What’s truly troubling is that when you look at the full report dating back to 2008, you can see that our overall happiness is on the decline. 2010 was a good year, without a single, breakout bad event. But 2011 has more then 10 days that fall well below the average line.
Danforth told ABC news that they’ve seen an increase in negative words. This could mean that as a country, we’re not as happy as we used to be. But Danforth says that some of that is coming from a natural shift in Twitter’s overall demographic.
At a glance, it does seem that we’ve been bombarded with horrific events in the past few years or maybe it just feels that way because of the immediacy of the internet.
Your homework for today: post something nice on Twitter. Let’s see if we can’t get that happiness score to start swinging upward for the rest of 2013.