Gross National Happiness Index on Facebook
Facebook recently introduced a Gross National Happiness Index, which measures the relative overall happiness of Facebook in the United States per day. It’s based on the number of positive and negative words that people use to update their status messages. The graph of the index over time is unsurprising — users are happier on holidays and sadder on days in which celebrities die.
In a blog post dated today, a Facebook representative explains:
We adapted a collection of positive and negative emotion words built by social psychologists. Examples of positive or happy words include “happy,” “yay” and “awesome,” while negative, or unhappy words, include “sad,” “doubt” and “tragic.”
Although I find this index to be very interesting, I have some questions about its methodology and its accuracy.
First, this index does not account for the overall happiness of people who do not use Facebook. The population that does use the site is not representative of the general population; Facebook users have been demonstrated to be more affluent.
Why does the graph indicate that people are happier on Thanksgiving than on Christmas? Is that because people typically say “Happy Thanksgiving” and “Merry Christmas?” Plus, holidays are more highly trafficked than others, since people are home from work. If the Y-axis is a simple summation of the status updates (is it?), then this extra traffic would exaggerate the quantity of overall happiness.
Furthermore, the accuracy of this index depends on the genuineness of the status updates. Do status updates accurately reflect the relative value of a person’s sentiment? I am skeptical. On my own profile, I recently posted:
Chrissy Harbin loves her new coffee maker !!!!
But did I really? If I won the lottery, how many exclamation marks would I have to use to demonstrate my relative excitement? Did I unintentionally inflate the level of gross national happiness that day?