We're bringing the Facebook Gross National Happiness index to 18 additional countries today, including Germany, India and Spain. As before, we analyzed the use of positive and negative words in status updates to estimate the happiness of people on Facebook in each of the countries.
We chose the countries based on those with the highest volumes of status updates in one of the languages that we currently support: English, Dutch, German, Italian and Spanish. This is because we need a large number of status updates in order to build a model that is not easily affected by random variations in word usage. Our methodology also requires us to have reliable, validated dictionaries of positive and negative words in the languages we analyze, which is why we do not yet support all languages.
We found that a country's happiness score is representative of the country's culture and experience on a particular day. Besides popular holidays like Christmas and New Year's Day, we see a spike in Spain's happiness index corresponding to Saint Jordi's day in Apri. In India, Holi in March and its Independence Day in August also lead to peaks, as do big sports victories in many of the countries. In the United States, we see similar spikes every Super Bowl.
Sports also can lead to some of the lowest days in the happiness index. Ireland's score drops on Nov 18, 2009, when FIFA awarded a controversial win to France over Ireland in the World Cup playoffs. Similarly, Germany's happiness level dips on Nov 10, 2009, when the goalie Robert Enke committed suicide.
Unsurprisingly, disasters have a dramatic effect on happiness levels. We see a large dip in India's index on Nov. 27, 2008, the day of the Mumbai terrorist attack. We also notice a huge drop in Chile's index, corresponding to the tragic earthquake on Feb. 27, 2010. Chile's happiness index has still not fully recovered. When another earthquake of a magnitude 6.3 hit central Italy on April 6, 2009, its happiness score dropped, as did Mexico's index between April 24-29, 2009, during the H1N1 flu outbreak and an earthquake.
Check out the graph yourself and see if you can find a significant day in your country.
Cultural differences also play a role in people's weekly happiness cycles and how they celebrate holidays. South Africans are happier on Fridays than Saturdays, a weekly cycle different from that of other countries. In several countries such as Spain and Germany, people are more festive on Christmas Eve than on Christmas Day. One week later, Singaporeans are happier on New Year's Day than New Year's Eve.
Measuring Happiness over Time
Because each country is analyzed separately to reduce effects due to language differences, we cannot directly compare one country's Gross National Happiness to another country's. However, we can compare how the indices of different countries are changing: We can determine whether people on Facebook in specific countries are becoming more or less happy over time. We examined these trends from September 2008 through the present. The results, as well as all the countries with Gross National Happiness indices, are shown below.
Some countries like the U.S. and Canada are seeing increases in both positivity and decreases in negativity. Other countries like India see decreases in negativity, but changes in positivity are not statistically significant. We see an increase in both positivity and negativity in Spain and almost all Spanish-speaking countries. Singaporeans and South Africans, on the other hand, are decreasing their use of emotional words overall.
As always, no one at Facebook reads status updates to conduct this analysis. Instead, computers do the calculations after all personally identifiable information is removed.
Lisa, an intern on Facebook's data team, is now back at the University of Waterloo improving Canadian happiness.