English Speaking Nations Happiest During Holidays, Facebook Data Shows

Facebook added another blog post to its study of the Gross National Happiness Index (GNH) today, analyzing positive and negative words used in status updates in the English speaking countries of Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.

In October we wrote about Facebook’s foray into measuring national happiness and in February we followed up with a note about Facebook’s measurements about the happiness levels of people in relationships.

Overall, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day were among the happiest across-the-board, as Facebook data intern Lisa Zhang writes. Weekend days, such as Friday, Saturday and Sunday, seem to the happiest days of the week for everybody, even as the deaths of popular celebrities like Health Ledger and Michael Jackson affected happiness levels in the countries studied.

Interestingly, negativity trends down over time for the nations studied, Zhang explained this by pointing to Facebook’s changing demographics (more older people) or the economic recovery.

Specifically, our neighbors to the north are apparently much happier the day before Canadian Thanksgiving than the actual day, perhaps Zhang writes because “everyone likes Sundays more than Mondays,” and Canadians seems to be slightly affected by U.S. holidays like the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving.

People in the United Kingdom had the least variation in mood, according to the study, with the least number of peaks, Zhang writes, “likely due to the heterogeneity of U.K. bank holidays.”

Finally, Zhang said the most interesting outlier for Australia was February 13, 2008 when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologized in Parliament to indigenous Australians; on that day the 4% of status updates in Australia contained the word “sorry.”

It’s an interesting proposition to determine the happiness level of a country based on something as small as a status update, to a large extent these types of analyzes from Facebook are self-selective in that countries with widespread Internet access are more likely to have a higher standard of living in the first place. No one will argue that there are loads of other factors that might play into a nation’s happiness level, nonetheless, the seeming alignment of the measurements around major holidays give credence to the idea that it’s possible.

Zhang also notes that the data was collected anonymously to protect user privacy. Other controls in the study: each nation is analyzed separately to control for population differences, cultural differences and language differences. But, this also means that it’s very hard to compare happiness levels between nations.