Jackson's death was blogosphere's saddest day: study

NEW YORK Wed Jul 29, 2009 12:55pm EDT

Michael Jackson opens a car window to greet fans as he arrives at the venue for the ''Premium VIP Party with Michael Jackson'' in Tokyo March 8, 2007. REUTERS/Kiyoshi Ota

Michael Jackson opens a car window to greet fans as he arrives at the venue for the ''Premium VIP Party with Michael Jackson'' in Tokyo March 8, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Kiyoshi Ota

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Is it possible to tell how happy we all are?

Yes, according to U.S. scientists who have devised a way to measure the happiness of millions of bloggers -- and found Michael Jackson's death was one of the saddest days while the U.S. election was the happiest in four years.

Peter Dodds and Chris Danforth, a mathematician and computer scientist from the Advanced Computing Center at the University of Vermont, have created a "sensor" to mine 2.3 million blogs and gather sentences beginning with "I feel" or "I am feeling." Each sentence is then given a happiness score from 1 to 9 depending on a point system allocated to 1,034 words. For example, "triumphant" averages 8.87 points, "paradise" 8.72, "pancakes" 6.08, and "suicide" 1.25.

They said this "hedonometer" showed that the U.S. election day last November was the happiest day in four years with a spike in the word "proud" while the day of the "King of Pop's" death was one of the unhappiest.

"The proliferation of personal online writing such as blogs gives us the opportunity to measure emotional levels in real time," they said in their report titled "Measuring the Happiness of Large-Scale Written Expression: Songs, Blogs, and Presidents."

Their study, reported this week in the Journal of Happiness Studies, involved gathering nearly 10 million sentences.

"Our method is only reasonable for large-scale texts, like what's available on the Web. Any one sentence might not show much. There's too much variability in individual expression," said Dodds.

The scientists said that although blog writers tend to be younger and more educated than average, they were broadly representative of the U.S. population.

They were also writing in a natural environment where they were comfortable as opposed to other happiness studies were participants were put on the spot.

"They think they are communicating with friends but (since blogs are public), we're just looking over their shoulders," said Danforth.

They said their results also ran contrary to recent social science data that suggested people basically feel the same at all ages of life.

Their method showed young teenagers are unhappiest with a disproportionate use of "sick," "hate," "stupid," "sad," "depressed," "bored," "lonely," "mad," and "fat." Then people get happier until they are old, when happiness drops off.

But the scientists said it was impossible to know what was really going on in people's heads.

"Our study is a data exploration," said Danforth. "It's not about developing a theory."

(Writing by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Sugita Katyal)

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