My own longstanding skepticism about Twitter (an aversion not shared by other Study bloggers) was shaken today when I read that researchers used the site to try to answer an age-old question: How do we attain happiness? A new analysis of over 500 million tweets says we tend to be happier in the mornings and on the weekends. Well, ok, maybe that’s not a groundbreaking discovery. But can studies of social media tell us anything about ourselves?
A 2006 study of the once-popular blogging site Livejournal (yes, Livejournal) went deeper than the recent Twitter research. It actually delved into the qualities of posts indicating a happy mood by using semantic analysis to find which commonly-used words corresponded with the users’ stated emotions (Livejournal included a “mood” setting where users could indicate their state of mind when posting; the samples in this study were labeled “happy” and “sad”). Of course, long (and sometimes very personal) blog posts offer more and better material for researchers than brief tweets do. Or, as the authors put it: “Since blogs are very close to diaries, they represent an ideal data set for deriving private expressions of happiness. While we admit that blogs do not have the same level of privacy as the old key-locked diaries, blog entries are nonetheless much closer to what people think, as compared to other forms of public expression.” Like the Twitter researchers, the authors find that people are happiest on the weekends, but they also go further and let readers in on the secret. Listing the words most often associated with good moods, they offer a recipe for happiness: “Something new, lots of food that you enjoy, your favorite drink,” and “an interesting social place.” Now that you’re privy to this wisdom (and the weekend is upon us), go put it to good use. The authors seem to recommend it with their cheery sign-off: “And so concludes this paper. Yay!”