Facebook Begins Measuring GNH — Gross National Happiness

Facebook has a new tool for those of us who value the total national output of happiness — the Gross National Happiness index. The application, developed in-house by Facebook engineers this year as one of its “prototype” features, measures the number of positive and negative words used in users’ status updates each day.

United States Gross National Happiness on Facebook

It compares the number of each type of word, and generates a graph of overall happiness, or lack thereof. One can also isolate the measures of either happiness or sadness. The data goes back as far as two years ago, but a lot more people are using Facebook — and status updates — these days so the most recent data appears the most illustrative. For now, this data only covers English-speaking users in the US, although that may change; similar polls are done by companies like Gallup, albeit using more traditional survey methods.

The results seem relatively obvious for right now. Lots of people were happy on Thanksgiving last year, for example. Less obvious results are also showing up. One of the saddest days of this year was when Michael Jackson died on June 25th. People also appeared pretty depressed on Labor Day, most likely due to the start of school for millions of Facebook users.

It would be interesting to see this data compared with other measures of national output, like gross domestic product. Are people happier, in general, when they’re more productive?

In terms of how the data was analyzed, Facebook adapted a text analysis software program called Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC). The program, developed by researchers over the past couple of decades, analyzes anything from emails to poems to calculate positive or negative emotions. Factors could include self-references, big words, or words relating to eating, religion, etc. In a blog post about the product today, Facebook cites positive examples like “happy,” “yay” and “awesome,” or negative examples like “sad,” “doubt” and “tragic.” Do happy words indicate happiness? Yes: Facebook also briefly surveyed users, and found that those who used more happy words also reported higher satisfaction with their lives.

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6 Responses to “Facebook Begins Measuring GNH — Gross National Happiness”

  1. Andrea Felkins says:

    Interesting..I just saw this facebook app that does mood analysis of user and users’s friends…

    happy : 32.6%
    sad : 0%
    flirty: 2.3%
    adventurous: 2.3%
    neutral: 62.8%

  2. Andrea Felkins says:

    Oh here is the app url
    http://apps.facebook.com/whatsbeenonyourmind

  3. Bruce Christensen says:

    Interesting work and research… Could be useful in many ways and help reinforce many timing decisions; from launching a product, to starting a political movement.

    I will be sure to use more happy words next Labor Day… It seems so sad and so tragic that this holiday could place so much doubt in our personal happiness.

  4. Britta Bohlinger says:

    The notion that happy words indicate happiness strikes me as rather naive – how do Facebook researchers classify terms such as ‘wicked’? Language is dynamic and needs to be read in context, collecting huge amounts of word-based data across a massively diverse and multi-lingual user base (US English-speaking users may be native Spanish or Chinese speakers but not classified as such in the system) might be tempting but tends to result in overly simplified conclusions.

    The complexities of happiness research have been more adequately addressed by Jonathan Haidt and Joe Forgas. Clearly, a methodology rooted in triangulation might help overcoming the post-positivist stance informing Facebook’s research. Triangulating with qualitative research such as in-depth focus group interviews over an extended period of time may come at a higher price, though, and it may require investigators trained to a level above intern.

  5. The Biggest Stories: HuffPo Likes Me! Edition — Social Pollination says:

    [...] users was measured by analyzing positive and negative words in status updates as defined by it Gross National Happiness Index during one week in January.” The results? Married people are happier than people in a [...]

  6. The Biggest Stories: HuffPo Likes Me! Edition — Social Pollination - Development says:

    [...] users was measured by analyzing positive and negative words in status updates as defined by it Gross National Happiness Index during one week in January.” The results? Married people are happier than people in a [...]

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