How well are we doing as a country? To answer that question, you might point to our gross national product as an indicator. But that's not the only thing to consider. In Bhutan, for example, the country's wellbeing is measured in terms of "gross national happiness." Some want that to be the goal in the United States, too. But how can you measure collective happiness?
Chris Danforth, an assistant professor of mathematics and statistics at the University of Vermont, is trying to figure that out. Danforth is part of a team of UVM faculty and students who are analyzing happiness through Twitter, blog posts, and more. (That's him at right.)
The data they've crunched uncovers some fascinating factoids. For example: collective happiness spikes on Christmas and New Year's Eve, but the saddest days of the past few years were the day Michael Jackson died and the day Osama bin Laden was killed. Danforth and his associates have also found that the English language has an inherent bias towards joy — there are more happy words than sad words.
I interviewed Danforth for a story that will run in next week's Seven Days. In the mean time, you can check out his team's work at onehappybird.com, or hear it straight from the source tonight at ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center. Danforth will give a talk on his research as part of ECHO's Café Scientifique series at 6:30 p.m. There's a suggested donation of $5, and there will be a cash bar and free hors d’oeuvres. Click here for more info on tonight's event.