Online Happiness: Measure It, Get It

Smiley courtesy Pumbaa, Wikimedia commons

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How happy are we? And how might we get happier?

First up: applied mathematicians Peter Dodds and Christopher Danforth of the U of Vermont Burlington are calculating how happy the Internet is by focusing on blog posts and song lyrics. They chose these two datasets because they’re: 1) huge; and 2) more honest—or so they believe.

Dodds and Danforth analyzed sentences from 2.4 million blogs collected by wefeelfine.org, which searches blog worldwide for versions of the phrase “I feel,” then records the whole sentence.

The researchers also downloaded more than a quarter million song lyrics from a searchable online database, then scanned for more than 1,000 emotionally charged words that a 1999 psychology study ranked on a scale from 1 (miserable) to 9 (ecstatic).

The good news: blogosphere happiness has increased some 4% since 2005, according to Dodds’ and Danforth’s upcoming paper in the Journal of Happiness Studies. The biggest recurring happy days are Christmas and Valentine’s. The happiest day since 2005 was 4 November 2008 when Barack Obama was elected president of the US.

The low points have been the 11 September anniversaries.

Second up: British psychologist Richard Wiseman is inviting the public to take part in an ambitious five-day online experiment (starting today) aimed at boosting happiness.

Participants rate their current mood before a random assignment to one of four groups—each of which watches a video describing one of four techniques commonly used to boost happiness. Particpants then follow the techniques and five days from now everyone reassesses their mood. The results will be announced 11 August.

Wiseman presents 10 techniques to help you get happier:

  • Meet up with a friend that you haven’t seen for a while
  • Watch a funny film or tv show
  • Exercise 30 minutes three times a week
  • Cut your tv viewing in half (but not the funny stuff?)
  • Buy experiences not goods: go to a concert, movie, unusual place, or strange restaurant.
  • Create novel challenges by starting a hobby, joining an organization, learning a skill
  • Go for a 20 minute walk in the sun
  • Spend 10 minutes listening to relaxing or uplifting music
  • Stroke a dog (cat?)
  • Stop watching and reading the news (even MoJo junkies?)

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We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and we can't afford to come up short. But when a reader recently asked how being a nonprofit makes Mother Jones different from other news organizations, we realized we needed to lay this out better: Because "in absolutely every way" is essentially the answer.

So we tried to explain why your year-end donations are so essential, and we'd like your help refining our pitch about what make Mother Jones valuable and worth reading to you.

We'd also like your support of our journalism with a year-end donation if you can right now—all online gifts will be doubled until we hit our $350,000 goal thanks to an incredibly generous donor's matching gift pledge.

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