Is Philadelphia a City of Unhappy Tweeters?

A new study of Twitter and life satisfaction suggests our tweeting is negative ... and contagious.

Philadelphians: We can be pretty depressing in just 140 characters. According to a new study by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Michigan State University, individual Twitter feeds can reveal the overall well-being of a community. And, of the 1,293 counties examined, Philadelphia County was among those with the lowest life satisfaction rating.

Pennsylvania and Philadelphia Twitter Happiness Map

U.S. Twitter Happiness Map

The researchers, in an attempt to measure the elusive concept of “life satisfaction” in a more cost-effective manner than conducting surveys, turned to Twitter. A billion tweets between June 2009 and March 2010 were collected, and then the tweeted words were correlated with life satisfaction, as measured in previous county questionnaires. The end result? That “tweets are capturing ‘something’ above and beyond standard demographic and socio-economic indicators” for measuring a community’s well-being.

The 1,293 counties that had over 30,000 “tweets word” were mapped and colored according to their overall well-being, and the researchers discovered several Twitter “word clouds” that indicate positive life topics and negative topics, or high and low well-being, within those counties.

So, while those in Bucks County might be tweeting about their Zumba classes or their recent donations to Haiti (tweets relating to exercise and money reflected a higher life satisfaction)…

Positive Word Cloud from Twitter happiness study

…in Philadelphia County, Twitter users have been relegated to the “negative” word cloud, frequently tweeting words like “stressed,” “bored,” “freakin, “ughh,” and, of course, “soo,” “sooo,” “soooo” and “sooooo.”

Negative Twitter Word Cloud from Twitter Happiness Study

And while you may consider yourself to be very satisfied with life, the researchers argue that happiness (or, in our case, the opposite) is, in fact, contagious. Or, at least it is on Twitter. The study states that “one’s well-being can be reflected by the words of a community sample” and that “the tweets of other people can indicate what it’s like to live around them, influencing one’s own happiness.”

With increasing evidence that our overall well-being leads to stronger relationships, better health, a longer life and increased career opportunities, we in Philadelphia County need to revise our Twitter feeds to match the green life satisfaction surrounding us. Next time you type out a tweet, ditch the “ughhh” (less popular than “ughh,” but still in our word cloud) for a topic more positively correlated with well-being: exercise, ideas/ suggestions, work engagement or spirituality. Or, you know, we could always keep deciding how many “o”s in “so” we need to accurately describe how freakin’ stressed/ bored/ tired we are.