What does happiness mean?
Although the word means different things to different people, that didn’t stop some math researchers in Vermont from making their own conclusions about who is happy and who is sad in the United States.
According to their research, Louisiana is the saddest state in the country.
The University of Vermont researchers, in their “The Geography of Happiness” study released in February, attempted to determine the happiness and sadness of the states by linking key words and geographic locations in tweets on the Twitter social media site.
The researchers looked at more than 10 million geotagged tweets from 2011 as well as lists of words they deemed either “happy” or “sad.” As an example, the study considers “rainbow” a happy word and “earthquake” a sad word.
According to the study, Hawaii is the happiest state in the nation, followed by Maine, Nevada, Utah and Vermont. Maine and Vermont? Really? What about those dour New England personalities?
Joining Louisiana among the saddest states are Mississippi (sometimes it feels like Louisiana and Mississippi are forever next to one another on almost every list), Maryland, Delaware and Georgia.
So how did Louisiana — the home of “laissez les bons temps rouler” — end up the saddest of the 50 states?
Louisianians like to curse. So say these math researchers.
Does the use of profane language on a social media web site indicate someone’s happiness?
Maybe it says something about mood, maturity or possibly even intelligence.
But without context, how does profanity equal unhappiness?
Louisiana Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne agreed when he heard about the study and its results.
“Since when have isolated words without context in tweets become an acceptable standard for determining people’s attitudes?” Dardenne asked.
The researchers also examined income and obesity data, and picked key words related to those measures. When the researchers tracked key food words in tweets to help determine happiness, guess what happened?
Key words such as “McDonald’s, “wings,” heartburn” and “ham” in tweets were considered a negative correlation to obesity while key words like “apple,” “tofu” and “grill” were considered a positive correlation to obesity.
Obesity, heart disease and diabetes rates are high in Louisiana.
But do those problems indicate unhappiness? Depends on the person.
Go ahead. Ask anyone in south Louisiana which food makes them happier: a fried crawfish po-boy or grilled tofu.
There are exceptions, but unhealthful food makes an awful lot of people happy down here.
The study notes there are “legitimate concerns to be raised” about how well Twitter data can represent the happiness of a population.
The cost of the study, which was funded by the University of Vermont, the National Science Foundation and the MITRE Corporation, a nonprofit organization, is another mystery.
“Well, it’s a difficult number to calculate — as it’d involve the percentage of time each author spent on the study multiplied by their respective salaries, the cost of the fraction of computational time used on the project etc.,” Lewis Mitchell, one of the study’s authors, said in an email Monday.
Dardenne, meanwhile, had his own advice last month for the math researchers: “I would encourage the University of Vermont to ask actual Louisianians what they would say about their own level of happiness.”
Put that in your next tweet.
Advocate staff writer Steven Ward can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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