Twitter: World Is Getting More Miserable

Based on tweets from 63 million users around the world, researchers find that global happiness is down.

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In 140 characters or fewer, people from around the world pour their hearts out in tweets about everything from Kim Kardashian's split-second marriage to the latest politician's blunder to what they ate for breakfast.

But there's another story our tweets tell: We're getting progressively unhappier according to a recent University of Vermont study, which analyzed more than 46 billion words tweeted by 63 million users around the globe.

"We're at our lowest point now in four years as far as our measure of happiness through Twitter goes," says Peter Dodds, an applied mathematician at UVM and the lead author of the study.

The 46 billion words Dodds and his team analyzed varied widely—everything from "pancakes" to "suicide"—which they then compared to scores given to the most common 10,000 words in the English language. For instance, a word such as "laughter" earned an average "happiness score" of 8.5 out of 9, while the word "terrorist" got 1.30.

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The results of the study show a gradual downward trend beginning in 2009, which accelerates during the first half of 2011. The negative events really stand out, according to Dodds, with spikes on terms such as "swine flu," Michael Jackson's death, the tsunami in Japan, and Osama Bin Laden's death really pushing the overall scores down.

"This is at the worldwide level so the things that show up really have to be huge," Dodds says. "We're never universally accidentally happy, but we have repeated global shocks that generate a surge of negativity. For Twitter at least, it seems that happiness is predictable, sadness is not."

The goal of the project is to create an instrument that more organically measures the feelings of groups of people and how society is performing at a certain time.

"Just like you would use a thermometer to measure the temperature outside, [policymakers] could have this on a dashboard of tools along with [economic indicators such as] consumer sentiment," Dodds says.

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Researchers went even further and parsed out when Tweeps were happiest, with the strongest up-trending days right before holidays such as Christmas or Valentine's Day. Users also tended to be happier over the weekend before plummeting to lows on Mondays and Tuesdays.

But the survey isn't about making sure everyone's happy or increasing happiness around the globe, Dodd says. In fact, some degree of grumpiness is needed for cultures to flourish, he says. "This is a new way of creating feedback about how we're doing collectively. It's about global self-knowledge," Dodds says.

The tool isn't currently available to the public, but Dodds and his colleagues plan to launch a website in the coming months allowing visitors to play around with the data collected from Twitter.

You can read the whole study here.

mhandley@usnews.com

Twitter: @mmhandley