New Study Uses Tweets To Rank America’s Happiest Cities, States

Better think twice about that next tweet. It could be used to determine how happy you are

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Getty Images / Stephen Marks

Be warned: your next tweet could be used to determine how happy you are.

A new study by researchers at the Vermont Complex Systems Center at the University of Vermont studied more than 10 million geotagged tweets from 2011 to rank the happiest U.S. cities and states. Focusing on the how often positive or negative words appeared in tweets, the team used its “hedonometer” to gauge which American destinations are the happiest and posted its findings here.

Unsurprisingly, Hawaii took the top spot, based on the researchers’ data; Louisiana, meanwhile, ranks as the nation’s most somber state. A closer look at U.S. cities found the wine-centric city of Napa, Calif. to be the happiest city in the country; Beaumont, Tex., was the saddest. The study also found that Southern states tended to use gloomier words than Northern, New England and Western states.

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The study looks at the frequency of about 10,000 happy and sad words and ranks them on a scale of one through 10.  Words like “wine, gift, cheers, beach” and food-related words appeared more in happier cities and states while sad words like “boo, ugh, hate” and profanity were more prevalent in unhappy locales. The use of profanity seemed to be a large indicator of the more unhappy places.

But as one of the authors of the study, Lewis Mitchell, explains, the study admits to ignoring the context of tweets. “It was a deliberate decision,” he tells TIME. “We did that to eliminate our own experimental bias in the study and remove any need to read and score individual tweets.”

As The Atlantic pointed out, people use profanity to express a multitude of emotions — including excitement and happiness. Though the team behind the study understands that’s a problem with the findings, Lewis says swear words only accounted for about 30 percent of the influential words used to determine gloomier states and cities. Lewis also notes that sad words tended to stick together; other mundane words were found more frequently alongside profanity.

“We feel like we can measure a sort of temperature of a larger collection of words in a text,” he says. “It’s the behavior of all those words that’s driving the results we’ve seen.”

Another issue raised with the results is the amount of tourism influencing the happiness of a city or state. Destinations like Hawaii and Napa see an influx of tourists on vacation mores than places like Beaumont, Texas or Albany, Ga. (the nation’s second least happy place, according to the study).

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According to Lewis, they made no attempt to distinguish the difference between residents and tourists, but the team hopes to tackle that question in the future. “There is definitely a relationship between people who travel and happiness,” he adds. “We haven’t looked at that question specifically but it’s within our grasp and we intend to.”

The researchers are also looking to incorporate more data outside of tweets. As the Pew Research Center found in 2012, only about 15 percent of American adults are on Twitter, meaning the study is only examining a small slice of the population. But the group also compared their findings to more traditional survey data like the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index and found similar results. Lewis tells TIME they’re looking at incorporating Google trend words, links and articles shared on news sites like the BBC and the New York Times in the future.

“I’m really excited about the potential of using [the hedonometer] as a realtime window or indicator of how a city is faring,” Lewis said. Next year the Vermont Complex Systems Center plans to tackle the 2012 census data to compare.

See how your city stacks up here, and check out the top five happiest and unhappiest cities and states below.

Happiest Cities:
1. Napa, Calif.
2. Idaho Falls, Idaho
3. Longmont, Colo.
4. San Clemente, Calif.
5. Simi Valley, Calif.

Unhappiest Cities:
1. Beaumont, Texas
2. Albany, Ga.
3. Texas City, Texas
4. Shreveport, La.
5. Monroe, La.

Happiest States:
1. Hawaii
2. Maine
3. Nevada
4. Utah
5. Vermont

Unhappiest States:
1. Louisiana
2. Mississippi
3. Maryland
4. Delaware
5. Georgia

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