To quote Tolstoy, “If you want to be happy, be.” But if you want to share your happiness, tweet.
In a recent study, three Boulder County cities were named among the top 15 happiest cities in the country: Longmont (No. 3), Lafayette/Louisville/Erie (No. 8) and Boulder (No. 10). Fort Collins ranked No. 12 as well. And Colorado was graded as the sixth happiest state.
Certainly it’s the sunshine and beer that makes us so joyful, but how would the researchers from University of Vermont know about our collective cheery demeanor? Rankings for the study were based on the emotion expressed from each city’s Twittering community.
While studying happiness is nothing new—the UN released its World Happiness Report last year—“The Geography of Happiness: Connecting Twitter sentiment and expression, demographics, and objective characteristics of place” goes beyond simply quantifying happiness within a geographic area. Researchers studied more than 10 million “geotagged messages,” or tweets, from 373 urban areas in the US throughout 2011. They coded each tweet for its happiness content; to measure happiness, researchers used crowd-sourced ratings from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to determine values for about 10,000 words on a scale of 1 to 10. Each tweet was measured based on the appearance of those words. The word “rainbow” has one of the highest average happy scores with 8.1; earthquake, they say, is one of the saddest words at 1.9. In the study, context of the tweet doesn’t matter. Just the value of the words. “While this may lead to difficulties in accurately determining the emotional content of small text, we find that for sufficiently large text this approach nonetheless gives reliable (if eventually improvable) results,” the report says.
While that may make readers second guess the results, “The Geography of Happiness” results are similar to those of other surveys, including the Gallup-Healthways wellbeing survey, which gave the Boulder area its fifth highest well-being index score.
So it seems, whether we are in the Twitter-sphere or not, it’s good to be a local.