The New Science of Happiness

How happy are you, on a scale of 1 to 10? If you don't know how to answer that, you're not alone. Surveying people about their happiness is notoriously problematic, even for psychologists. It requires researchers to reach some definition of the term that matches how their research subjects define it, and for people to self-report honestly, which is always a crapshoot. Still, surveys of the world's happiest countries pop up all the time, but some researchers have devised what they call a more rigorous way to sense the national mood.

The New York Times reported today on an attempt by University of Vermont researchers to study American happiness not by asking Americans how happy they are, but rather by what we say to each other through speeches, blog posts, and song lyrics. These are more honest measures of well-being, they say, free from the self-censorship that survey subjects impose in order to seem "normal" to the person in the white coat with the clipboard.


The Vermont scientists compiled their findings by analyzing more than 200,000 song lyrics and more than 2 million blog posts, and rating their happiness content from 1 to 10: 1 being total misery, 10 jubilation. Some of the findings weren't too surprising—teens were angsty, people over 70 worried about illness, and the rest of us are apparently too busy working to escape emotional mediocrity.

The real question is, how much can you take from analyzing speeches, songs and blogs? The Vermont study confirmed a lot of things we already knew, like that the nation was sad on Sept. 11 and happy when Obama was elected President, lonely on Valentine's and feeling guilty for overeating and overspending at Christmas. However, national well-being is just an average. There were certainly people who weren't happy when Obama won the election, and who were terribly happy last Valentine's Day.

This study technique might very well lead to interesting derivatives when researchers get the chance to slice and dice the data some more. But enough about the psychological state of the nation—it's a tool for pointless lists and meaningless comparisons between countries, not a useful metric.

A dark matter hurricane is crashing into Earth

Giving our solar system a "slap in the face"

Surprising Science
  • A stream of galactic debris is hurtling at us, pulling dark matter along with it
  • It's traveling so quickly it's been described as a hurricane of dark matter
  • Scientists are excited to set their particle detectors at the onslffaught
Keep reading Show less

CNN files lawsuit against Trump administration

The lawsuit claims the administration violated the First Amendment when it revoked the press credentials of reporter Jim Acosta.

(Photo by Al Drago - Pool/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • CNN reporter Jim Acosta's press credentials were revoked following a heated exchange with President Donald Trump on November 8.
  • The network filed a lawsuit against the administration on Tuesday, claiming the administration has violated multiple amendments.
  • The White House may only revoke the press credentials of journalists for "compelling reasons," not for reasons involving content.
Keep reading Show less

New study reveals what time we burn the most calories

Once again, our circadian rhythm points the way.

Photo: Victor Freitas / Unsplash
Surprising Science
  • Seven individuals were locked inside a windowless, internetless room for 37 days.
  • While at rest, we burn 130 more calories at 5 p.m. than at 5 a.m.
  • Morning time again shown not to be the best time to eat.
Keep reading Show less