People and happiness

Actions may speak louder than words but they don’t do it nearly as often. That was the observation made by Mark Twain and he was right; words are thrown around with gay abandon. In the digital age that is even more true as bloggers, tweeters, and posters clog the cyberspace with wordage. The great thing about the digital era though is that we can analyse the use of words in a way we never could in the past and a new study has done that to cast some light on the nature of our happiness.

The new study analysed words used in articles published in Swedish daily online newspapers in 2010. That meant an analysis of 1.5 million words. The researchers investigated which words were most common in articles containing the word “happiness” as compared with articles not containing the word happiness. The theory behind this is that the pattern of word usage from such a large sample would reveal what words we unconsciously associate with happiness.

The results showed that words related to people were highly repeated in articles relating to happiness. These “people” words included pronouns (you, me, us, them), significant others (grandmother, mother), the Swedish royal wedding (Prince Daniel and Princess Victoria), and people involved in the FIFA (soccer) World Cup (names like Zlatan, Argentina, Drogba). By contrast, words related to objects such as money (millions, billions), bestselling gadgets (iPad, iPhone), and companies (Google, Windows) were frequently found in articles not talking about happiness.

This word usage reflects a collective and unconscious perception of what makes us happy. It supports the idea found in much research on happiness which is that relationships, not material things, are what make people happy.

In yesterday’s news item on Einstein’s brain in this column we discovered that part of what made for Einstein’s brilliance was the extraordinary connectedness of his brain. This research is showing that connection to others is also the underpinning of happiness. It seems the smart, and the happy, thing is to link in.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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