The team that calculates the world’s happiness is not having a good time right now

On a scale of 1 to Christmas, we’re collectively at the south pole.

3 min readNov 6, 2020
Pictured above: a visual representation of the world’s mental state…
and clue #2 to what we’re working on.
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In 2007, Peter Dodds, a data scientist and professor at the University of Vermont had a question: Could you measure the world’s collective happiness? Luckily for him, around that time a new platform debuted, dedicated to letting users share their feelings with the world: Twitter.

So, Dodds started working on the Hedonometer

The Hedonometer measures happiness based on the tone of the world’s tweets. Podcast “Reply All,” reports that in 2008, Dodds and his team of researchers struck an agreement with the young tech company to analyze 10% of all of their users’ tweet (on an aggregate level so as not to infringe on personal privacy).

They asked people to rank over 10,000 keywords on a scale of 1–9–1 being the saddest, 9 the happiest. Words like die, death, and terrorism made the bottom of the sad list, while celebrate, rich, and weekend scored on the happy side (fun fact: around 2018 they had to remove “thirsty” from their lexicon. It’s meaning had changed too dramatically…).

They tested the Hedonometer’s accuracy by feeding it texts of classic stories like the Count of Monte Christo and, surprise, its analysis of the story arcs was spot on. So, for the past decade, the Vermont Complex Systems Center has tracked the world’s happiness, with the happiest day of each year being, by far, Christmas.

How has the world’s happiness trended over time?

You won’t be surprised to hear that we’re trending downwards. In fact, since 2016, the Dodds reports that the world has lost about “a Christmas day of happiness.” Bummer.

Data from the Hedonometer in 2010, from the “Lost” finale to the Earthquake in Indonesia.

But here’s the thing. While it might make us feel less alone to know we’re not the only ones feeling cruddier than usual, it doesn’t necessarily make us feel happier. So, we’re taking a page out of “Reply All’s” book and thinking about little ways we can move the needle on our own personal happiness meters.

Here’s what our team does to tip the happiness scales

  • “I use journaling apps like Qeepsake, to documents mini-milestones in my kid’s development and personality” — Susie
  • “I do my skincare routine in the morning, even if it’s all a lie. Hyuralonic acid is real to me!!!” — Lindsey
  • “I drink “spa-ter” with cucumber/lemon/mint” — Derek
  • “I love wrapping myself in my weighted blanket and using my fancy bag of rice heated up and placed on my shoulders” — Fontana
  • “Bourbon. Self-explanatory.” — Vivek
  • “I look to take a small action to make things better for my partner or whoever is near virtually or otherwise. Helps with a feeling of togetherness, like I accomplished something, and that I might have made the world a better place in some small way.” — Jamie
  • “I put on my favorite tunes and dance like a wacko” — Stacie
  • “I improvise in the kitchen (sometimes with recipes and sometimes with songs while I cook).” — Sammy

And, there’s one thing that resonated with all of us: Giving yourself permission to be a mess when you need to be.

What do you do to boost your hedonometer? Leave us a comment — we’re compiling a big ol’ list of tips :)




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