February 22, 2013
Living The Tweet Life
Twitter, with its 140-character posts, is like having a national snapshot taken in real time, and researchers are finding new and exciting ways to study the picture it forms. Previous studies of Twitter have found that users are happiest on Sunday mornings, saddest on Thursday evenings and prone to perk up on Christmas and other holidays.
The latest study from the University of Vermont has ranked happiness by location, finding that Napa, California is the happiest city in the U.S., while Beaumont, Texas comes in dead last out of the 373 cities ranked.
The study used a list of 10,000 words rated on a 10-point scale, according to a report by USA Today. The words were rated as happy, sad or neutral, and then used to score over ten million tweets from 2011 that carried geographic tags. The research team discarded neutral words such as “the,” “of,” and “and,” before examining the happy and sad words to see how often they showed up in different cities and states.
So, what were the words that put Napa and Beaumont on this cognitive map? For Napa, words like “wine,” “beauty,” “hope,” “food” and others placed it at the top ranking for happy. In Beaumont, folks were apparently swearing a lot and had a shortage of words like “awesome” and “amazing.” Happy cities and happy states didn’t match up though. The happiest state was Hawaii (duh! Go figure.), and the saddest was Louisiana (apparently they cuss a lot too.)
Lead researcher Lewis Mitchell says that the sad list of words included such things as “hate,” “terrorist,” “earthquake,” and “greed” while the happy list had such words as “happy,” “reunion,” “lol” (laughing out loud) and nature-related words.
The Twitter posts were not read for content, and the study did not try to sort out travelers from residents. Another large weakness of the study is that it only involved Tweets, not any other form of social media. Only 15 percent of adults use Twitter, and most of those tend to be young. Mitchell says that the findings track with those of surveys, like the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being index, and with research showing that happiness is partially linked to income.
Of course, officials from both cities had something to say.
Napa Mayor Jill Techel commented, “We’ve got the wonderful weather, the fabulous food and wine and the views,” she says. “It’s a great place.”
The officials in Beaumont, however, did not agree with the study. One said, “Overall, only a small share of society is tweeting, therefore we disagree with the findings of this study, as it is not a true representation of Beaumont,” said Dean Conwell, executive director of the Beaumont Convention and Visitors Bureau, in an e-mail. “We invite everyone to visit Beaumont and experience all the happiness we have to share, including our #unicorns, #kittens, and #rainbows.”
He isn’t the only one objecting to the findings. Comments have been showing up on a blog post Mitchell wrote: “I have noticed that people in Texas tend to be happier than average folks from the (north),” a commenter identified as Luis wrote. “The fact (that) there is a lot of profanity in the tweets (is) not really an indication of sadness…Texans just like to talk profanity, and sometimes in a very happy context.”
Let me interject for a moment. I was born and raised in Texas… just outside Beaumont, in fact. But I’ve lived in Oklahoma, Virginia, and Nebraska and traveled all over the country. I would have to agree that Texans swear a lot. It is not always negative, however; we tend to be loud and somewhat obnoxious at all times. We have big personalities that require shocking, forceful communication. In other words, we just damned well like to cuss. However, with all that said, Beaumont isn’t really a happy place, either, in my opinion. There are lots of good folks there, and lots of things going on to do and see. But it is an economically depressed area with few jobs and opportunities. I wouldn’t doubt Texans are cussing a bit more there than in other places.
Mitchell agrees that swear words are not always a sigh of unhappiness. The study rejected one particular swear word because it is used in so many ways — that’s right, the F-bomb. Last year, a company called Vertaline created a heatmap of the U.S. based on that one word alone, showing the highest concentration of use. Yeah, from Vertaline’s map, it does look like we love the F word in Texas.
Swear words seem to be gateway drugs, according to other studies. People who swear tend to also use other negative connotation words like “hate” or “sick” or “war.” This makes swear words pretty reliable predictors of negativity.
Mitchell sees a potential for using this kind of data mining to track changes in happiness and health, maybe down to the neighborhood level.
Want to know where your state ranks on the list? Check it out.
8. New Hampshire
15. New York
16. New Mexico
19. North Dakota
29. New Jersey
30. West Virginia
32. Rhode Island
35. South Dakota
40. South Carolina
41. North Carolina
44. District of Columbia
Image Credit: Julien Tromeur / Shutterstock