An illustration showing the Girl Scout’s Science of Happiness badge. Has technology advanced to the point where it can accurately measure how happy humanity is?
It’s been defined by everyone from Plato to The Beatles. It’s mentioned in the Declaration of Independence. Most of us are in search of it.
Now two professors are tracking your happiness using a device called a hedonometer, which records and charts the global psyche in real time based on the millions of words posted to Twitter each day.
Although some critics are skeptical about applying quantitative methods to so elusive an emotion, the researchers, along with a national organization and several clubs across college campuses, suggest the hedonometer’s findings could be helpful to policy makers.
“Our work has told us something very important,” University of Vermont mathematics Professor Peter Dodds said. “People end up thinking the things they can measure are the important things.”
The hedonometer pulls from Twitter’s Gardenhose feed, a sampling of about 50 million messages tweeted each day, with the 10,000 most common words analyzed and given a happiness factor on a 9-point scale. The results are then posted to hedonometer.org, a website launched April 30.
“Twitter is not everything, but it provides a great test and a fairly good reflection of what people are doing,” Dodds said. “The instrument is a composite, so we will never just analyze one word for happiness.”
The hedonometer functions much as a thermometer, his colleague and fellow math professor Chris Danforth explained in an e-mail. Taking the temperature of one molecule (in this case, a tweet) might not reveal a whole lot, but the aggregate picture can be meaningful.
Most recently, their data showed that the day of the Boston Marathon bombings was the saddest in five years.
The nature of the tweets on April 15 pushed the hedonometer to its lowest point ever, hedonometer.org showed. Dodds said the three most common phrases that day were “Boston bombings,” “thoughts and prayers” and “send donations.”
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