THANKSGIVING: What Are U.S. Facebook Users Thankful for?

By David Cohen 

ThanksgivingDinner650The Facebook Data Science Team marked Thanksgiving by analyzing anonymized, aggregate data from English-speaking users in the U.S. to determine what they were most thankful for, and friends, family and health topped the list.

Winter Mason, Funda Kivran-Swaine, Moira Burke and Lada Adamic presented the results in a note on the Facebook Data Science page.

Over the past few months, many people have been challenging one another to share on Facebook the things for which they are most grateful. So, for example, one friend might challenge another to “write three things you are thankful for over the next five days.” In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we thought we would see what people are most thankful for.

We started by collecting a set of anonymized English status updates that contained “grateful” or “thankful,” as well as the word “day” preceded or followed by a number. These status updates were then aggregated and processed by a text-clustering algorithm so we could identify what people were grateful for.

One of the first things we discovered is that the people who participated in this challenge were overwhelmingly women: 90 percent of people who participated identified as female on their profile. There are a number of explanations for why this might be: Women may be more likely to participate in challenges such as this; women may be more likely to nominate other women than men; women may be more willing to share what they are grateful for on Facebook; etc. To be clear, we think it is unlikely that women are actually more grateful than men.


The No. 1 thing people on Facebook are most thankful for? Friends! Also in the top 10 are “family and friends,” “husband,” “children” and “daughter.” It appears that we are most thankful for the people we are closest to. In this figure, and the other bar charts that follow, blue bars indicate other people.

We also looked at what topics are most distinctive for each state.


Notable are weather patterns during the summer and fall when the gratitude challenge was most popular — people in the southwest are grateful for much-needed rain, those in the Midwest for summer thunderstorms, residents of Minnesota and Connecticut love the fall colors and balmy Hawaii and Louisiana are grateful for rainbows.


Why is Michigan grateful for electricity? We think it may be because heavy summer storms knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of houses right around the challenge.

New Yorkers are thankful for their apartments, those on the Eastern seaboard for the beach, Oregonians for yoga and much of the South for religion and God.


Social media makes an appearance, too (Pinterest! Netflix! Google! YouTube!). Facebook was mentioned more often than any other form of social media and uniformly enough to not show up on the map for any particular state.


We also analyzed, for each topic, what fraction of people saying they were thankful for that topic were men and what fraction were women. Of course, because the challenge was done mostly by women, most topics had a smaller proportion of men — with one exception.


When we look at the topics most unanimously talked about by women, we also see the significant others get a lot of love — as well as babies and “fur babies” (pets).


We also looked at which gratitude topics received the most likes on average.


Here we see evidence of social support: When someone says they are thankful for “sobriety” or “recovery,” their friends come out and show their support by liking that status update more than any other. We also see that some of the most-liked topics are those posted disproportionately by men: “wife” and “girlfriend.”

Does the focus of our gratitude change as we get older? Next, we plot the frequency of each topic by the age of the poster.


We can see two things from this figure. First, most participants were between the ages of 28 and 55. Second, we see some trends that you would expect: Friends are always one of the most important things people are thankful for, “husband” doesn’t enter the charts until the early 20s, opportunities start decreasing after early 30s and health is more important later. To emphasize this, let’s look at the proportion of people in the age group that are grateful for that topic.


With this figure, the changing priorities are even clearer: As one gets older, one is less likely to be thankful for music, coffee and friends and more thankful for one’s spouse and children.

Next we look at people’s priorities: What do they say they are grateful for on the first day relative to the later days of the challenge?


Here we see that people are more likely to begin the challenge by expressing their gratitude for their immediate families and significant others. “Husband” is much more likely to appear on the first day than any other day, and although “friends” are the most frequently mentioned, they’re most likely to be mentioned on the second day or later. As the days of the challenge progress, we also see increases in thankfulness for opportunities and blessings.


Readers: What are you most thankful for this Thanksgiving?