Which way to happy? Geographically speaking, it’s the route to Hawaii, Maine or one of the clusters of blissful cities in California and Colorado.
The map below is based on results from a study of geotagged tweets published earlier this year in PLoS ONE by researchers at the University of Vermont. The team scored more than 10,000 words on a positive-negative scale and measured their frequency in millions of tweets across the country, deliberately ignoring context to eliminate experimental bias. What emerged was significant regional variation in happiness by this calculation, which correlates with other lifestyle measures such as gun violence, obesity and Gallup’s traditional wellbeing survey. A sadness belt across the South includes states that have high levels of poverty and the shortest life expectancies.
Geography is, of course, just one predictor of moods expressed on Twitter. The researchers also used their “hedonometer” to look at daily happiness averages over the past few years — and the peaks (holidays, especially Christmas) and valleys (tragedies including the Newtown shooting and Boston Marathon bombing) are not surprising.
Until there’s a hedonometer that can analyze tweets in every language, we have to look at other wellbeing measures to see how happy the U.S. is compared to other countries. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Better Life Index, Switzerland scores highest on life satisfaction with the U.S. coming in behind New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, Canada, Israel and some Western European countries. And a recent Ipsos poll spells global good news: more people describe themselves as “happy” now than before the financial crisis of 2008 began.