Can 10 million tweets measure happiness? New research says so

reverse twitter birdsWant to be happy? Move to Hawaii. Or Napa Valley. And avoid Louisiana at all costs. 

A new study by the Vermont Complex Systems Center uses Twitter to gauge how happy or sad people are across the U.S., according to The Atlantic. Analysts looked at 10 million tweets from across the country and developed a code to determine how happy or sad each 140-character missive appeared. In the image below, red states are happiest while blue are saddest. Shades in between represent a sliding scale.

tweet happiness

The study looked for certain words as identifiers, flagging tweets using vocabulary like “beauty,” “hope,” and “wine” as happy. Swear words and words like “smoke” and “hate” got tagged as indicators of unhappiness.

tweets and happinessResearchers analyzed how frequently the words identified as good and bad showed up and calculated lists of the places they assumed to be happy and sad. The results are interesting, but not necessarily shocking:  Vacation spots like Northern California wine country and sunny Hawaii took top marks.

The Bible Belt fared worse, with Mississippi, Louisiana, and Georgia cited as some of the least-happy states.

This study offers fascinating results, but there are a ton of reasons you should take it with a grain of salt. Just because people use profanity in their tweets doesn’t mean they’re necessarily unhappy. And just because people in Hawaii like to put a sunny spin on their tweets doesn’t mean they don’t have problems.

The Atlantic pointed out the results may be further skewed because they do not take into account tourists happy to be on vacation, nor did they look at tweets in Spanish. Places like Napa Valley are meccas for affluent wine-lovers, but they also have plenty of Hispanic migrant workers who might not be tweeting about “hope” en espanol.

Moreover, people tend to carefully cultivate their social media persona. The people in places listed as “happiest” may simply feel more pressure to appear content with their lives, while the people in the places ranked lower may feel more open to discuss their problems on Twitter.