Happiness is harder to measure than sadness . There are statistics that allow us to get a handle on sadness : Unemployment figures , divorces, suicide rates, crime rates , drunkenness, Prozac prescriptions etc. Happiness , however , is more nebulous; it is not always about financial health or family circumstances. Polls are not much help in measuring it because the number of respondents is necessarily limited, their responses not always reliable, and their selection arbitrary. Thus , polls claiming to have found the ” Happiest Country” or the ” Happiest People ” are far from believable.
A prime example is the poll conducted by Coastal Living magazine to crown the ” Happiest Seaside Town in America” . The competition rules allowed anybody to vote once every hour online from January through March. As a result , some towns , covetous of the commercial opportunities that come with winning the title , publicized the contest heavily. They exhorted their residents to vote as often as they could and to urge their out-of-town friends to also do so. As a result , some residents voted as many as 15 to 19 times a day. The towns that succeeded in getting out the vote made the finals . The finalists were Harwich Port MA , Beaufort S.C , Sag Harbor N.Y , Kennebunkport ME, La Jolla CA, Rowayton CT , Newport RI , Pa’ia Town, Maui HI, Pescadero CA and Sanibel Island FL. The winner, to be officially announced later this month, is Beaufort SC. Does anybody really think that Beaufort is really the “Happiest Seaside Town in America ” ? Isn’t it rather that they were the most successful in getting out the vote ?
While there is no definitive method of measuring happiness , the ” hedonometer ” developed by two University of Vermont scientists Peter Dodds, a mathematician , and Chris Danforth , a computer scientist , is better than most . The hedonometer , described as a happiness sensor or a global microscope, is not an actual device . It is an innovative method of mining online data to arrive at a happiness index. Every day , teams from the University of Vermont’s Computational Laboratory and from MITRE , a non-profit organization ,comb through millions of Tweets for words indicative of the tweeter’s frame of mind . They have cataloged a list of 10,000 words and assigned a happiness value to each of them ; the happier the word , the higher its happiness quotient. For instance , on a 1 t0 9 scale , ‘ happy ‘ scores a 8.30 ” hahaha” gets a 7.94 . Neutral words score lower: “ and ” is 5.22 , ” the ” 4.98. At the bottom are words such as crash , 2.60 , the emoticon : ( 2.36 , war 1.80 and jail 1.76. The millions of word scores are then used to calculate the day’s average score or happiness index .
Incidentally , the saddest day of the last five years was April 15, 2013 , the day of the Boston Marathon bombings . Who can argue with this result ? News of the bombings was like a hammerblow and I know I was depressed for days afterwards, as indeed were all of us.
The scientists who developed the hedonometer are working to expand the accuracy of the results . Ultimately , they will be mining data streams not just from Twitter but from Google Trends , The New York Times, CNN transcripts, and Bitly. And the data mining will be in 12 languages , not just English. Nothing is perfect , but this should come close to capturing ” emotional temperature ‘ , a measure of how happy we are.
P.S in the meantime , these results may be of interest .
Happiest U.S states: 1. Hawaii 2. Maine 3. Nevada 4. Utah 5. Vermont
Saddest U.S. States: 1. Louisiana 2. Mississippi 3. Maryland 4. Delaware 5. Georgia
Happiest City is Napa CA and the Saddest , Beaumont TX .
Interesting , but one should not read too much into these articles. When all is said and done , happiness is state of mind dependent on an individual’s inner resources.