Facebook Begins Measuring GNH — Gross National Happiness

Facebook has a new tool for those of us who value the total national output of happiness — the Gross National Happiness index. The application, developed in-house by Facebook engineers this year as one of its “prototype” features, measures the number of positive and negative words used in users’ status updates each day.

It compares the number of each type of word, and generates a graph of overall happiness, or lack thereof. One can also isolate the measures of either happiness or sadness. The data goes back as far as two years ago, but a lot more people are using Facebook — and status updates — these days so the most recent data appears the most illustrative. For now, this data only covers English-speaking users in the US, although that may change; similar polls are done by companies like Gallup, albeit using more traditional survey methods.

The results seem relatively obvious for right now. Lots of people were happy on Thanksgiving last year, for example. Less obvious results are also showing up. One of the saddest days of this year was when Michael Jackson died on June 25th. People also appeared pretty depressed on Labor Day, most likely due to the start of school for millions of Facebook users.

It would be interesting to see this data compared with other measures of national output, like gross domestic product. Are people happier, in general, when they’re more productive?

In terms of how the data was analyzed, Facebook adapted a text analysis software program called Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC). The program, developed by researchers over the past couple of decades, analyzes anything from emails to poems to calculate positive or negative emotions. Factors could include self-references, big words, or words relating to eating, religion, etc. In a blog post about the product today, Facebook cites positive examples like “happy,” “yay” and “awesome,” or negative examples like “sad,” “doubt” and “tragic.” Do happy words indicate happiness? Yes: Facebook also briefly surveyed users, and found that those who used more happy words also reported higher satisfaction with their lives.