A recent study published in the journal PLOS ONE has shown that Twitter users’ life satisfaction, a key component of happiness, can be successfully measured using Twitter data


The pursuit of happiness is what every person strives for. There has been so much enthusiasm for research on happiness over the years that it should not be surprising to see that more and more researchers are turning to social media to study human happiness. Subjective Well-Being, which is the scientific term for happiness, is determined by two key components: affect (the balance between the existence of positive and negative emotion felt daily due to different reasons) and life satisfaction (a cognitive and long-term evaluation of one’s own life). Affect looks at how a person feels in the moment and is influenced by everyday events such as eating tasty food, facing traffic jam, etc. Examples such as ‘I hate this boring movie’ and ‘I enjoyed my lunch’ reflect negative and positive affect, respectively. Life satisfaction, on the other hand, is concerned with how a person feels about their life in the longer term, and reflects a more stable evaluation. For example ‘I’ve achieved all I wish for in life’ reflects life satisfaction. While affect, or short-term happiness, has been examined in several studies, life satisfaction has received little or no attention, especially with regards to social media. Researchers of a study published in the journal PLOS ONE have developed an algorithm to successfully measure life satisfaction, a component of happiness, through Twitter by using an approach that involves finding life satisfaction and dissatisfaction expressions on Twitter.

The study involved the use of Twitter Streaming API (application program interface) to collect tweets from October 2012 to October 2014 (around 3 billion tweets), and limited data to first person tweets that were written in the present tense. In other words, each tweet had to have ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘mine’ or ‘my’ to increase the probability of finding posts that convey self-referencing life satisfaction expressions. Researchers used the Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS) survey to find posts expressing either satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the users’ life. They collected all metadata such as tweet ID, UTC (coordinated universal time) time, UTC offset, text, username, geo, user id, place, and details about the users such as number of friends (followings), number of followers, number of tweets and location.

Researchers observed that the users’ expressions of life satisfaction or feelings of long-term satisfaction with their lives were not affected by current events (such as disasters, seasonal, political, etc.), and that their lives remained relatively steady over time.  These findings are consistent with the definition of life satisfaction in the social sciences, as they clearly distinguish between life satisfaction and affect within subjective well-being, and therefore provide validity to the surveillance method.

The study revealed that users expressing satisfaction with their life evidently differed from those expressing dissatisfaction. Comparison between the two groups revealed differences in the usage of URLs, personal pronouns, first person singular structures and hashtags, in the use of swear words, in conveying negative emotion, sadness, anger and sexuality, and in the frequency of posts relating to health, religion, money, anger and death. Researchers found that users dissatisfied with life communicated more negative emotions such as anger and sadness in their tweets, and used more sexual and swear words. Users expressing life dissatisfaction posted more tweets on depression, anger, death, anxiety,and sadness compared to users expressing life satisfaction. Moreover, users who changed from satisfaction to dissatisfaction also posted more tweets on depression, anger, death, anxiety, and sadness than those continued to express satisfaction with life. Twitter users expressing life satisfaction posted more positive tweets and less negative tweets on religion compared to users expressing life dissatisfaction. Researchers concluded that these results were consistent with observations made in life satisfaction research from psychology and sociology, and therefore provide further validity to their method.

Researchers have established a promising approach to successfully measure life satisfaction through Twitter. This approach is significant given that life satisfaction is a key component of happiness. Considering that social media allows you to reach out to a larger audience with greater ease, collecting observations about life satisfaction through social media can give researchers the opportunity to be able to measure and study happiness in larger populations. This method is also of importance because it can potentially give researchers a better understanding of the differences between users who express life satisfaction and those who express dissatisfaction with their life; this information can possibly be used to design interventions to help those who express life dissatisfaction.




Written by: Nigar Celep, BASc

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