You Want to be Happier? Use Twitter

Last Updated Mar 30, 2011 8:24 AM EDT

Twitter is a happier place than you might expect.

Johan Bollen, of the University of Indiana, together with Bruno Goncalves, Guangchen Ruan, and Huina Mao, tracked 102,000 Twitter users over six months, analyzing a total of 129 million tweets. They analyzed the emotional content of the tweets by concentrating on words that psychologists have agreed generally indicate either a happy or unhappy state of mind. Here's what they found about the happiness of those who tweet at least once a day:
  • Twitter is a 'moderately happy' place. That's surprising in itself, especially given recent research questioning whether another social network, facebook, actually makes people sad. The researchers say Twitter may even be happier than it appears, since the database of words they use to guage mood contains significantly more negative words than positive ones.
  • Twitter 'friends'--those who follow each other and send each other messages through the service--tend to be of similar levels of happiness. There are lots of links between happy people, and lots of links between people who are all unhappy, with very little back-and-forth between those who are happy and those who are not.
In the real world, it's well-known that people tend to associate with others who are like them, whether that means they group themselves by age, race, or even weight. But it comes as a bit of a surprise that the same thing can happen on Twitter, where users may know very little about each other and interactions are limited to whatever can be crammed in to 140 characters.

Who's Happy First?
Bollen and his colleagues can't say for sure if there is a cause-and-effect relationship at work here. They suggest a few possible explanations:
  • Like seeks out like. Even within the confines of Twitter, people might tend to seek out those who share their temperament.
  • Happiness is contagious. A cheery Twitter message could be enough to boost a reader's spirits, making their own tweets cheerier.
  • Emoticons no longer seem silly. As a Twitter user's 'neighborhood' becomes happier, this may encourage their own expression of sentiment. In other words, if you're reading tweets with lots of smileys, "love" and "thanks" in them, it might seem more reasonable to include them in your own tweets as well.
Do you think Twitter can make you happier or sad? What about Facebook?

Related Photo courtesy of flickr user TheGiantVermin
Kimberly Weisul is a freelance writer, editor and consultant. Follow her at www.twitter.com/weisul.
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    Kimberly Weisul is the co-founder of One Thing New, the free email newsletter for smart, busy women. She was previously Senior Editor at BusinessWeek, responsible for all coverage of entrepreneurship and for launching BusinessWeek SmallBiz, a bimonthly magazine. She is also a freelance writer, editor and editorial consultant.