Category Archives: geohappiness

Moose on the Loose!

Note: a version of this post was given by the author for Invocation at the UVM College of Engineering & Mathematical Sciences graduation ceremony, Flynn Theatre, May 18, 2014.

A few weeks ago—on one of those beautiful spring mornings that makes the long winter seem like it happened elsewhere—something quite remarkable took place here at the University of Vermont.

At the time, I was sitting outside on a small wooden picnic bench near my office on Trinity campus. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping their layered periodic rhythms, and the Green Mountains were finally living up to their name after months of radiating white.

Vermont Mountains Panorama at Sunrise Mt Ascutney, Vermont, New England, USA

I’d love to say that I was meditating within our glorious landscape. I’d really like to say that I was deeply appreciating the sacred gifts offered by Mother Nature. The truth is that I was totally geeking out.

I was reading storylabber Dilan Kiley’s undergraduate Honors thesis. It was awesome! He quantified the spread of information on Twitter in response to sudden, unanticipated events. These system-scale shocks can briefly synchronize our society’s chaotic collective attention. And while reading about them in Dilan’s thesis, I experienced one myself.

I heard a strange noise nearby, and looked up to find a moose staring at me, from 10 feet away. Well played Dilan.

The moose was out of breath, having been chased up the hill from the lake by an excited mob of followers. In a moment that seemed to last several seconds, we looked at each other. I was in awe. The moose looked unsure, confused, and lost.

Our time together was quickly interrupted by animal control officers. They were sprinting after the moose, trying to steer it safely into the woods. A small flock of undergraduates followed, looking at each other in disbelief at what they were seeing.

Not surprisingly, a seven foot tall, thousand pound wild animal jogging through campus caused quite a stir! Pictures of the moose received thousands of likes on social media, and #mooseontheloose started trending, at least here in Vermont. After a few hours in the spotlight, Vermont Fish & Wildlife happily reported that the moose found its way back into the woods north of campus.

I tell you this story today because I think the moose’s adventure offers some lessons for us as you wander off campus to find your way home.

In the past few weeks, I’ve spoken to many of you, asking about your plans for the future. This is a time of great transition in your life. Most of you don’t have a grand plan, or even a muddy pond to call home.

Like the moose, you too may feel a bit lost. You too will have many people taking your picture, and making a big fuss over you. 

Over the coming months, you too will have well-intentioned loved ones trying to steer you to a safe path in life, advising you where to go, and what to do. You too will have to find your way through a noisy, often confusing set of uncertain options.

As people, we imitate role models whom we admire, using their past choices to inform our own. As scientists, we use mathematical models to make predictions, which are helpful, because unfortunately, observations of the future are not available at this time [1].

Seemingly inconsequential decisions, that you make, may change your life in the biggest ways. But which decisions are most important? To which decisions will your life be sensitively dependent?

I reached out to the hero of our story via his parody Twitter account @BTVMoose. Really. Talk about geeking out. I asked for words of wisdom for the class of 2014. Overcoming the great modern difficulty of finding a wireless internet signal in the dense forest, he was able to tweet this advice:

To paraphrase this bit of spiritual guidance: you may need to wander around a bit, before you find your way.

[1] Original quote from Knutson and Tuleya, Journal of Climate, 2005.


Leave a comment

Filed under geohappiness, mathematics, prediction, social phenomena

How does movement influence your daily happiness?

Imagine commuting an hour to work, one way, grinding through miles of traffic to get from your suburban home to a desk job in the big city. Excited yet?

Ok, now imagine that you lead a life of leisure traveling the world. You fly coast-to-coast to see a concert, soak in some culture, and drink fine wine. Does this lifestyle seem more appealing?

Lets try to quantify the influence of these travel patterns on individual happiness. We do this using geolocated tweets, which we have previously used to reveal the happiness of cities, and to quantify patterns of movement.

Each point corresponds to a geo-located tweet from 2011. (A) USA (B) Washington, D.C. (C) Los Angeles (D) Earth

Each point corresponds to a geo-located tweet from 2011.
(A) USA (B) Washington, D.C. (C) Los Angeles (D) Earth

First, we find the average location of each individual’s tweets. We call this their expected location. Then we draw circles emanating from this spot, like rings on a dart board. Some messages are written close to home, others from very far away.

Then we collect all of the words written at each distance, roughly 500,000 tweets per ring. Averaging the happiness of words found at each distance, remarkably we find that happiness increases logarithmically with distance from expected location. Tweets authored far from home contain a smaller number of negative words.

Tweets are grouped into ten equally populated bins by the distance from their author's average location, and the average happiness of words written at each distance is plotted. Expressed happiness grows logarithmically with distance from home.

Tweets are grouped into ten equally populated bins by the distance from their author’s average location, and the average happiness of words written at each distance is plotted. Expressed happiness grows logarithmically with distance from home.

Home is where the hate is? What? No.

Below we look at the difference between the happiest and saddest distances from home. Words appearing on the right increase the happiness of the 2500km distance relative to the 1km distance. For example, tweets authored far from an individual’s expected location are more likely to contain the positive words `beach’, `new’, `great’, `park’, `restaurant’, `dinner’, `resort’, `coffee’, `lunch’, `cafe’, and `food’, and less likely to contain the negative words `no’, `don’t’, `not’, `hate’, `can’t’, `damn’, and `never’ than tweets posted close to home. Words going against the trend appear on the left, decreasing the happiness of the 2500km distance group relative to the 1km group.

Word shift graph comparing the lowest average word happiness distance group to the words authored farthest from home.

Word shift graph comparing the lowest average word happiness distance group to the words authored farthest from home.

Tweets written close to home are more likely to contain the positive words `me’, `lol’, `love’, `like’, `haha’, `my’, `you’, and `good’. Moving clockwise, the three insets show that the two text sizes are comparable, the biggest contributor to the happiness difference is the decrease in negative words authored by individuals very far from their average location, and the 50 words listed make up roughly 50% of the total difference between the two bags of words. For you visual learning folks, here is a short video explaining how these word shifts work.

Take home story: people tweeting far from home talk about food more, and they swear less than people tweeting close to home. These people are probably enjoying awesome vacations, and tweeting about it!

In summary, if you are a fellow with a daily commute that makes you feel a little bit sad, you are not alone! Try swearing less. Or ride your bike.

If you are lucky enough to travel often, then keep smiling…maybe send the rest of us some pictures to cheer us up!

For more details on our analysis, check our paper “Happiness and the Patterns of Life: A Study of Geolocated Tweets” recently published in Nature Scientific Reports.

1 Comment

Filed under geohappiness, psychology, social phenomena

Now Published: The Geography of Happiness

Today we’re pleased to announce that our article “The Geography of Happiness: Connecting Twitter sentiment and expression, demographics, and objective characteristics of place” has been officially published by PLoS ONE.  We wanted to tell you about one key piece we’ve added to the paper and an unusual new Twitter account we’ve created.

After our three blog posts (which coincided with the release of the preprint), we received plenty of media attention, as well as some fantastic feedback from readers (thanks!). One very important question kept coming up: “How well does happiness agree with other measures of well-being?”, or more simply: “Why should we believe you?”

Well, we’re glad you asked.  For the final paper, we’ve added a US state-level comparison between our happiness measure and five other kinds of well-being indices:

  • the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (BRFSS)  for which people were asked to rate their life satisfaction on a scale of 1 to 4 (the BRFSS was explored in this Science paper on well-being from a few years back);
  • Gallup’s health survey-based well-being index;
  • the Peace Index, which aggregates various crime data;
  • the America’s Health Ranking, which aggregates health data; and
  • gun violence, specifically the number of shootings per 100,000 people.

In the figure below, we show a series of scatter plots comparing all pairs of well-being metrics  (happiness runs along the top row).  Each dot represents a US state, and the colors represent strength of correlation or agreement between measures, with blue meaning strong agreement, and red representing no (statistically significant) agreement. (We include the exact Spearman correlation coefficienr and p-value in each scatter plot.)


Scatter matrix showing comparison between different well-being metrics for all US states. The top row shows comparisons with happiness. Colors indicate the strength of correlation between pairs of metrics; shades of blue indicate increasingly significant correlation.

Looking at the top row, we can immediately see that happiness agrees with all measures except for the BRFSS. However, the BRFSS itself doesn’t agree with any other measure except for the Gallup well-being index.  The most striking departure was the BRFSS ranking Louisiana as the happiest state whereas our happiness measure placed it last.  There are a number of possible explanations for these disagreements: one is that the BRFSS data was taken between 2005 and 2008, while all other data is from 2011 only; another is that unlike the other measures, happiness is self-reported in the BRFSS. How would you answer if asked how happy you are? Do you expect that your answer is representative of the population you live in at large? There are certainly many different ways to define “happiness”, as a number of different readers have pointed out.

Of course, this is not to criticize the BRFSS (it remains a significant data source, and Oswald & Wu did fine work analyzing it in their Science paper), but merely to suggest that our word happiness score is measuring something different but perhaps complementary to traditional survey-based techniques. There certainly appears to be plenty of value to observing people “in the wild” via social network data, e.g. with the real-time instrument

Finally, to celebrate the publication of our article we created a Twitter feed, @geographyofhapp, dedicated to tweeting the happiest and saddest city every day, and we invite you to follow.  We’re hoping that this is the first research article with its own Twitter account, but perhaps not hoping that it represents the future of scientific publishing…

Leave a comment

Filed under geohappiness, mathematics, psychology, social phenomena

Where is the happiest city in the USA?

(Update: this work is now published at PLoS ONE)

Is Disneyland really the happiest place on Earth?* How happy is the city you live in? We have already seen how the hedonometer can be used to find the happiest street corner in New York City, now it’s time to let it loose on the entire United States.

We plotted over 10 million geotagged tweets from 2011 (all our results are in this paper, also on the arxiv), coloring each point by the average happiness of nearby words (detail on how we calculate happiness can be found in this article published in PLoS ONE):


As well as cities and the roads between them, we can make out many regions of higher and lower happiness, even within individual cities. As an example, check out this tweet-generated map of the city of Chicago:

Tweet-generated map of Chicago. Click to enlarge.

Tweet-generated map of Chicago. Click to enlarge.

Notice the striking contrast between the relatively happy Central/North Side of the city, and the sadder South Side. You can also find a few airports in this map, and if you look very closely you might even be able to pick out happy and sad terminals!

To quantify this variation in happiness a bit better, let’s look at the average happiness of each state:


Southern states tend to produce sadder words than those in northern New England or out west. Hawaii emerges as the happiest state and Louisiana as the saddest, due to relative differences in the frequencies of happy and sad words used in each state. Here at onehappybird, we characterize such differences by “word shifts”, which are basically word clouds for grown-ups. You can find examples of these, as well as the full list of the average happiness of each state, here (page best viewed using Google Chrome).

Zooming in further to the level of cities, we produced a similar list for 373 cities in the lower 48 states (you can find the full list, as well as maps and word shifts for each city, here). With a score of 6.25, we found the happiest city to be Napa, CA, due to a relative abundance of such happy words as “restaurant”, “wine”, and even “cheers”, along with a lack of profanity.


At the other end of the spectrum, we found the saddest city to be Beaumont, TX, with a score of 5.82. In general, cities in the south tended to be less happy than those in the north, with a major contributing factor being the relative abundance of profanity used in those cities.

We can go even further than this, and group cities by similarities in word usage. Each square in the heatmap below represents the similarity (Spearman correlation for you mathematically minded onehappybird watchers) between word distributions for the largest cities in the US. Red squares mean that the corresponding cities use words in a similar fashion, while blue means that those cities tend to use different types of words with respect to each other. The colors in the tree diagram at the top signify clusters of cities exhibiting similar word usage (below a certain threshold).

As we might expect for two cities that are geographically nearby, New Orleans and Baton Rouge are clumped together at the bottom right of the figure. On the other hand, New York and Seattle get clumped together as well, suggesting that similarities in language depend on more than just geographical proximity.


You can find more information about happiness and cities, as well as details on the methods used to produce these results, in our arxiv research article. In our next post, we’ll look at how these results are related to various underlying socioeconomic characteristics of cities. What makes a city happy or sad? Can we use Big Data to predict future changes in the demographics, health, or happiness of a city? How does happiness relate to the food you eat?

*By the way, to answer the question at the start of this post: According to this analysis Disneyland is not the happiest place on Earth; it isn’t even the happiest place in Southern California! See if you can find it in this tweet-generated map of LA! Or find your city here.


Filed under geohappiness, mathematics, psychology, social phenomena