Research Exercise 1:Happiness

Determining how happy a state or city is can be tricky because the sample must be representative of the population. A research titled “The Geography of Happiness: Connecting Twitter Sentiment and Expression, Demographics, and Objective Characteristics of Place,” published in PLoS ONE 8(5): e64417, approached this problem in a clever way. Designed by Mitchell, L., Frank, M.R., Harries, K.D., Dodds, P.S., & Danforth, C. M., the study asks and tries to find the answer to the question: What do people’s tweets say about the level of happiness across the United States?

This research attempted to estimate the average happiness of states and cities by evaluating geolocated messages in Twitter constructed by individuals in the area at the time. The concept of happiness was operationalized by attaching numbers to certain words used in the tweet. The researchers used the Language Assessment by Mechanical Turk (LabMT) word list. In the word list, 10,000 of the words have been rated ranging from 1 (sad) to 9 (happy). Neutral words such as “the” scored in the middle of the scale. This method allows one to quantify happiness. The average happiness for a given text (havg(T)) was calculated using a mathematical equation which also takes into account others factors of the tweet.

The type of data used to answer the question was the levels of happiness expressed numerically. The data-gathering method used in this article was examining geotagged tweets. The method of analysis is interpreting havg(T) in the context of the location. Using the proposed operational definition of happiness, the study was able to rank the states from happiest to saddest with the three happiest states: Hawaii, Maine, and Nevada (in that order). The study also found association between happiness and obesity rate and education.

This research has cleverly evaluated happiness. Using tweets as a means of tracking happiness and sadness is different from surveying people because tweets are more immediate response for the current situation and tweets are usually intended for one’s friends or followers. Though I am not experienced enough in math to critic the equation of calculating havg(T), the equation holds much validity. This was demonstrated by showing that there is very strong correlation between the happiness score calculated in the research and Gallup well-being, Peace Index, AHR score, and Gun violence. This study approached the concept of happiness in an unorthodox fashion but proves to provide valuable information.