The Happiness Index


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Imagine someone reading your Facebook status updates and parsing your words to assess how happy or sad you are at any particular moment. Now imagine applying that same parsing technology not just to you, but to all of Facebook’s 100 million American users. The result: Facebook’s Gross National Happiness index, a measure of the national mood. The methodology is somewhat complicated—Facebook counts the number of “positive” and “negative” words used in each status update, converts them to percentages, finds average percents based on all users that day, then subtracts the “negative percent” from the “positive percent” to get a value for the y axis—but the results are clear: Weekends and holidays are better than midweek, and Mother’s Day and Father’s Day ’09 recorded more happiness than ’08 (probably because more celebrating moms and dads had Facebook pages in ’09.) And the bottom line: Despite a deepening recession and prolonged wars, Americans seemed to be happier in 2009 than 2008.

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Justin Miller was an associate editor at The Atlantic from 2009 to 2011. He is now the homepage editor at New York magazine. More

Justin Miller was a associate editor at The Atlantic. Previously he was an assistant editor at RealClearPolitics, a political reporter in Ohio, and a freelance journalist.

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