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April 28, 2013
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Publisher’s Notebook: Can tweets really tell us where folks are happy and sad?

I’m not a big fan of scientific studies or surveys. Most of them suggest that anything we eat will kill us and, well, we have to eat to survive.

I was especially disturbed to learn recently that baldness was linked to heart disease, which was the last thing I needed to hear on a Monday. As you may have noticed, there isn’t much life on my upper deck.

I still remember the day I walked into my son’s room after his mom lost her hair during her chemotherapy treatments. “What’s the matter, son?” I asked, noting how sad he looked.

“This is just great,” he said. “Now both my parents are bald.”

I told him his mom’s hair would eventually grow back (and it did) and that one out of two isn’t bad.

He perked right up.

Anyway, these researchers with too much time on their hands did a survey to find out where the happiest and saddest towns in America might be. They analyzed millions of Twitter posts from around the country, looking for happy or sad phrases, such as LOL, good, nice, sleep, mad, hate, smoke, jail and expletives. The team found Napa, Calif., to be the happiest place and Louisiana to be the least happy place.

It’s a good thing they didn’t check my email box. There’s a ton of sad phrases buried in there.

“Idiot.”

“Moron.”

“Take your paper and jam it.”

“Heard from your brain lately?”

Roseburg, by the way, didn’t make either list. Neither did Oregon. The happiest states were Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Utah and Vermont. The saddest states were ... again, Louisiana, and Mississippi, Maryland, Delaware and Georgia.

Hawaii is kind of a no-brainer. It’s a vacation destination and I imagine most of the tweets used phrases like “sun,” “surf,” “drink,” “beach,” “love” and perhaps all of them in the same sentence.

If you were stuck in a swamp somewhere in Louisiana — maybe wrestling an alligator or swatting mosquitoes as large as dogs — your tweets would probably be kind of pathetic. “Kill,” “snake,” “sweat,” “ouch,” and maybe all at once, like, “Get me out of this sweat-infested hellhole before a snake kills me, or I sweat to death … ouch!”

I lived in Nevada for a few years and don’t recall being that happy, so I was surprised to see the Silver State on the list. I published a daily paper in Carson City and most of the callers weren’t that happy.

“Idiot!”

“Moron!”

“Take your paper and jam it!”

It could be most of the tweets came from Lake Tahoe, or Las Vegas, where people smile all the time because there are free cocktails at the casinos.

“Can you tell me where the restroom is?” I’d ask.

“It’s over there,” the scantily clad cocktail waitress would say, pointing to a corner of the casino. “Would you like a drink?”

And if it weren’t for the wine, how happy would the tweets be from Napa? After three stops on the wine tour, all you can manage on your cellphone is maybe “LOL” and even that would be a stretch.

Eleven of the 15 happiest cities in the country were located in California and Colorado. Santa Cruz ranked near the top and I can sure understand that. Last time I was there everyone I bumped into was stoned. They were happy — but very high.

San Clemente, Calif., is also a very happy place, according to the study. If you can afford to live there, you have a lot of money and … don’t tell me money doesn’t bring you happiness.

According to the report, researchers compared how many times people in Beaumont, Texas, used cuss words in their tweets versus people in Napa. It was no contest. The only semi-happy phrases out of Texas were “LOL” and “ha-ha.” Most of it was pretty sad, including a ton of “ass,” “damn” and “hell.”

Researchers called it “geo-profanity.”

They admit that their study could be flawed because people in Texas just talk differently than people from Napa, especially if they are drunk.

Take the word “damn,” for instance. In Texas that could be a happy phrase, as in, “Damn, that truck is nice!”

“Well, hell yes, I want another Bud!”

Versus, say, Napa, where it could be used in a sad way, as in, “Damn, who drank my merlot?”

I have no idea how people in Green Bay, Wis., could possibly be happier than people from Portland, but they are, according to the survey. Last time I was in Green Bay, my lips froze to a doorknob and had to be peeled off (it was a bet). If I had a chance to send a tweet (we actually talked back in those days) the phrases would have been very, very sad.

From a political standpoint, researchers found that red states were happier than blue states. I don’t know what to make of that, but I suppose you could make an argument that liberals complain more than conservatives?

Or, conservatives have more money and are naturally happier? I’ll guess that will turn around as soon as next year’s tax bills come in the mail.

“Damn, this can’t be right!”

“Well they can kiss my …”

And from the blue states: “LOL.”

Jeff Ackerman is publisher of The News-Review. He can be reached at 541-957-4263 or jackerman@nrtoday.com.


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The News-Review Updated Apr 28, 2013 12:04AM Published Apr 28, 2013 12:04AM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.