Facebook’s Gross National Happiness


In late 2009, Data Scientists at Facebook began studying the happiness of English speakers in the United States through the Gross National Happiness Index (GNH). The scientists used anonymous counts of positive and negative word used in people’s Facebook updates to paint a picture of how they are feeling.

This data continues to grow, and Facebook is now monitoring over 22 countries based on words people are using in their status updates. The scientists have discoverd that although there are differences between the nations’ GNH graphs, they are more similar than they are different. Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day are amongst the happiest days, and negativity is trending down over time. The weekly increase and decrease in GNH is visible in all countries, with Friday, Saturday and Sunday being the happiest days of the week for everybody. Deaths of celebrities like Heath Ledger and Michael Jackson can also be seen in almost all of the graphs.

Here are some other interesting findings from GNH studies:

  • Canadians are happier the day before Canadian Thanksgiving (a Sunday) than on the actual Canadian Thanksgiving Day (a Monday).
  • Australia’s index was lowest on Feb. 13, 2008—the day Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologized in Parliament to indigenous Australians—reflecting the 4 percent of Aussie status updates containing the word “sorry.”
  • Happiness levels in the UK seem to have the least variation, with the fewest large peaks among all the graphs due to holidays.
  • Sports also can lead to some of the lowest days in the happiness index. Ireland’s score drops on Nov 18, 2009, when FIFA awarded a controversial win to France over Ireland in the World Cup playoffs. Similarly, Germany’s happiness level dips on Nov 10, 2009, when the goalie Robert Enke committed suicide.
  • Unsurprisingly, disasters have a dramatic effect on happiness levels. We see a large dip in India’s index on Nov. 27, 2008, the day of the Mumbai terrorist attack. We also notice a huge drop in Chile’s index, corresponding to the tragic earthquake on Feb. 27, 2010. Chile’s happiness index has still not fully recovered. When another earthquake of a magnitude 6.3 hit central Italy on April 6, 2009, its happiness score dropped, as did Mexico’s index between April 24-29, 2009, during the H1N1 flu outbreak and an earthquake.
  • Besides popular holidays like Christmas and New Year’s Day, we see a spike in Spain’s happiness index corresponding to Saint Jordi’s day in Apri. In India, Holi in March and its Independence Day in August also lead to peaks, as do big sports victories in many of the countries. In the United States, we see similar spikes every Super Bowl.

How happy is your country?

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