Where is the happiest city in the USA?

(Update: this work is now published at PLoS ONE)

Is Disneyland really the happiest place on Earth?* How happy is the city you live in? We have already seen how the hedonometer can be used to find the happiest street corner in New York City, now it’s time to let it loose on the entire United States.

We plotted over 10 million geotagged tweets from 2011 (all our results are in this paper, also on the arxiv), coloring each point by the average happiness of nearby words (detail on how we calculate happiness can be found in this article published in PLoS ONE):

Image

As well as cities and the roads between them, we can make out many regions of higher and lower happiness, even within individual cities. As an example, check out this tweet-generated map of the city of Chicago:

Tweet-generated map of Chicago. Click to enlarge.

Tweet-generated map of Chicago. Click to enlarge.

Notice the striking contrast between the relatively happy Central/North Side of the city, and the sadder South Side. You can also find a few airports in this map, and if you look very closely you might even be able to pick out happy and sad terminals!

To quantify this variation in happiness a bit better, let’s look at the average happiness of each state:

Image

Southern states tend to produce sadder words than those in northern New England or out west. Hawaii emerges as the happiest state and Louisiana as the saddest, due to relative differences in the frequencies of happy and sad words used in each state. Here at onehappybird, we characterize such differences by “word shifts”, which are basically word clouds for grown-ups. You can find examples of these, as well as the full list of the average happiness of each state, here (page best viewed using Google Chrome).

Zooming in further to the level of cities, we produced a similar list for 373 cities in the lower 48 states (you can find the full list, as well as maps and word shifts for each city, here). With a score of 6.25, we found the happiest city to be Napa, CA, due to a relative abundance of such happy words as “restaurant”, “wine”, and even “cheers”, along with a lack of profanity.

wordshiftNapaRedacted

At the other end of the spectrum, we found the saddest city to be Beaumont, TX, with a score of 5.82. In general, cities in the south tended to be less happy than those in the north, with a major contributing factor being the relative abundance of profanity used in those cities.

We can go even further than this, and group cities by similarities in word usage. Each square in the heatmap below represents the similarity (Spearman correlation for you mathematically minded onehappybird watchers) between word distributions for the largest cities in the US. Red squares mean that the corresponding cities use words in a similar fashion, while blue means that those cities tend to use different types of words with respect to each other. The colors in the tree diagram at the top signify clusters of cities exhibiting similar word usage (below a certain threshold).

As we might expect for two cities that are geographically nearby, New Orleans and Baton Rouge are clumped together at the bottom right of the figure. On the other hand, New York and Seattle get clumped together as well, suggesting that similarities in language depend on more than just geographical proximity.

cityClusters

You can find more information about happiness and cities, as well as details on the methods used to produce these results, in our arxiv research article. In our next post, we’ll look at how these results are related to various underlying socioeconomic characteristics of cities. What makes a city happy or sad? Can we use Big Data to predict future changes in the demographics, health, or happiness of a city? How does happiness relate to the food you eat?

*By the way, to answer the question at the start of this post: According to this analysis Disneyland is not the happiest place on Earth; it isn’t even the happiest place in Southern California! See if you can find it in this tweet-generated map of LA! Or find your city here.

85 thoughts on “Where is the happiest city in the USA?

  1. Tim

    Love this experiment, but my personal experience of living in both the North and the South has a different result.

    I’ve noticed when analyzing “happy” vs “sad” words it becomes very challenging to deal with context and then you also have to look at what people typically tweet versus do in real life.

    Kind of like it’s easier to get a negative comment then a positive one.

    Reply
    1. Jennifer

      Was born and raised in Beaumont, still live here! All my family and friends are here or in neighboring towns. I’m happy most of the time, we all have moments of saddest, like when you are dx. with breast cancer, need brain surgery, or your husband dies! If you are happy or sad, it comes from within you, and only you can do something to change those emotions, not the town you live in! I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me. Romans 8:31 Be happy, no matter where you are!

      Reply
  2. Jamie Carter Bollich

    I live in Beaumont, and I post a lot of unhappy words, mostly related to our corrupt and dysfunctional school district. I think the assessment in this article is on target.

    Reply
  3. Luis

    I have noticed that people in Texas tend to be happier than average folks from the norths. The fact tha there is a lot of profanity in the tweets it´s not really an indication of sadness…..Texans just like to talk profanity, and sometimes in a very happy context :)

    Reply
      1. Pati

        Yup, and maybe we cus more because we recognize there are so many Dumbasses out there and say so over .wine..at a restaurant where we say cheers for not being one of them!

        Reply
  4. Jamie Carter Bollich

    I don’t ever use profanity, but a lot of sadness, anger, frustration, and incredulity come through in what I say.

    Reply
  5. A

    Cool map but I don’t think that swearing is a very good indicator of happiness. Like, I could say “This is so fucking cool!” and I would be expressing happiness.

    Reply
    1. Chris Danforth

      Thanks for your comment. Given the importance of context when evaluating the f-word, people tend to rate it both positively and negatively. As a result, its average score puts it as a neutral word, and therefore isn’t counted by our algorithm. For more on profanity, check this out.

      Reply
      1. Chris Fisher

        How does your algorithm deal with profanity? Within certain social circles of mine it is used quite often and nearly always as a colour word, not to expressive negativity. The article above makes it sound like profanity is a big no-no, which would make that a terrible metric to measure against when groups use profanity in such different ways, especially based on locale.

        Reply
  6. Melanie Lanuza

    I grew up and live in Beaumont, Texas, and I’ve been wanting to escape for years… It’s definitely not the most resourceful or inspiring city for a graphic designer to live, so that part can be depressing for me. While it isn’t the most amazingly happy city, I wouldn’t say it’s THE *saddest*. Maybe we just have the most people who complain…

    Reply
    1. Tim

      Yeah I could see it being tough designing, etc in Beaumont. But at the same time it has or at least had an established culture and identity and that should be a little inspirational ;) ( Spent many days staring at Alligators from my grandmas place in Beaumont )

      Reply
    2. Pariah

      Oh dear Bast, it’s HORRIBLE for a designer! We’re all competing for the same five jobs. Two degrees and I was looking for work for a year and a half before I found one an hour from my home for barely above minimum wage. And I was thrilled to get that much!

      Reply
  7. alxjhnsn

    What you are really measuring is the “happiness” of tweeters not the community as a whole. I would not presume that the percentage of tweeters is equal in all areas or that tweeters are representative of their communities.

    Nice effort, but I think you have work to do.

    Reply
  8. Kadee

    Beaumont sucks……….Born and raised here and just wish i could get out. I love Texas….hate beaumont (or as my siblings call it the black hole)

    Reply
    1. rachel

      I lived with my exhusband in beaumont texas with family. I think its a good town to settle with family. Jobs are hard to get there. I dont think its a sad place. I love how everything is so conveniently close and houston is not far either.

      Reply
  9. Austin Creole

    This is an amazing collection and presentation of data, but I agree with Tim. Local culture has a lot to do with the way people express themselves, and that doesn’t seem to be taken into consideration. It may be that people in certain areas (of the South, for example) are more prone to use sarcasm or irony than people in Portland or Austin. I grew up in South Louisiana and have lived in Austin for years. They are culturally very dissimilar but I don’t think people in Louisiana are more “unhappy” because they may be more willing to express themselves in a grittier sort of way. In fact, the truth may be the opposite of that.

    Reply
  10. rednnneecckckkkkkkkk

    I’ve lived in quite a few places. The most recently Beaumont, TX. Its a pure hellhole. Hot, humid, trashy, terrible schools, corrupt government, lots of crime, no public parks or activities, terrible culture (other than crawfish boils), completely lacks diversity. This study confirms my suspicions that cities don’t get any more miserable than this.

    Reply
    1. Anthony Ledezma

      Yes the weather here is crazy, but it’s the reason why we here say that if you can live here you can live anywhere. You must have been passing through and know nothing because all these things we do have. I live near three public parks and know of many events and things that go on every month. We are an extremely diverse and cultured town. Being Mexican I can say we have many things going on here, and there is a lot of the southern Texas/Créole culture here other then just crawfish boils. Also these are just a tiny fraction of things going on.

      Reply
  11. leek

    Lamar in Beaumont was a hellish experience for me (this was over 20 years ago). The “Cardinals” football team trashed their own dorm and then took over our “academic” dorm (Brooks Shivers), only to destroy it and have the team permanently banned from NCAA for corruption. Plus there were religious cults on campus which presaged the Branch Davidians and who recruited members on the sidewalk.

    Reply
    1. Remi Bryan

      I was at Lamar over 20 years ago, the team was disbanded and football removed from the University. They were not banned for corruption.

      Reply
      1. Druz0000

        I graduated from Lamar 8 years ago and they have made several updates to the campus over the last decade. They demolished the old dorms and have built 5 or 6 new dorms, its a nice campus now also Lamar has brought Football back in the past 3 years. Beaumont has had a lot of growth in the last 20 years and would look a lot different than it did when you were there.

        Reply
      2. Jennifer

        I went to Lamar in ’69, ’83-’84, ’92-’95, and didn’t have any problems, in fact, enjoyed my time there, and would do it again!

        Reply
  12. M Bowman

    I looked at 3 of the cities on your list. One city I looked at was Lynchburg, VA. Two of the words you used for your analysis were “Liberty” and “University”. There is a “Liberty University” in Lynchburg. I don’t know if this would skew your analysis. If so, my random sampling of 3 cities would suggest that you have this sort of word association for other cities as well. Thought you should know.

    Reply
    1. Caitlin

      Agreed! I moved to Vicksburg in July, coincidentally FROM Beaumont, TX and I would give anything to be back! (My boyfriend is in the Coast Guard and got stationed here)

      Reply
  13. Peter

    It appears to me that republicans are generally unhappier than democrates, based on the results from the most recent election and your map. I wonder what cause and effect is at work there…

    Reply
  14. Ed

    I’ve lived in Beaumont for 15 years and love it. A mix of Louisiana and Texas cultures. Less than an hour drive to the beaches, geat hunting grounds or casinos. You drive 90 minutes and you’re in Houston. Any Friday night you have your choice of over 20 live music venues.

    Reply
    1. Stephanie D Molina (@Beaumartian)

      My family and I love living in Beaumont. 5 quick reasons why: 1-No traffic. I can get almost anywhere in about 10-15 minutes. 2. The Texas-Cajun Louisiana flare definitely sets us apart from the rest of our state and our food is awesome. 3. The people I’ve met here are so nice. (Apparently these same folks are NOT on Twitter.) Gentlemen still hold doors open for me and people go out of their way to help. 4. I graduated from Lamar and had a wonderful experience. Now that the campus has completely transformed, it’s gorgeous. 5. I can enjoy being on the water, on a boat almost any time of year. Water-skiing and boat rides on the Neches River are a blast and we can go almost every month of the year.

      I think you should take every opportunity to let people know the positive things about your city. Life’s too short to be miserable. It makes me sad to read all the negative comments made about Beaumont by locals. Why wouldn’t you take pride in where you live? #BeaumontUnicornsUnite

      Reply
    2. bigdealguy

      I agree with Ed because we agree. :)

      I am a local to Beaumont and have lived in this area 67 years.

      To the East we have the swamps of Louisiana. The the West we have farm lands out to Houston. To the North we have piney woods and beautiful country.

      To the South we have Galveston and the Gulf of Mexico.

      Using Twitter as a measuring tool may be as sketchy as the prediction that Dewey beat Truman where the poll was conducted mostly via telephone.

      Just as a limited demographic had access to telephones back then, Twitter is a confined population with its own set of built-in biases.

      Reply
  15. Ed S

    This is quite amazing. Kudos, you did an awesome job with visualizing the raw data!
    I have a suggestion, please take it lightly as I am not data scientist … yet!
    I would recommend going one step beyond the insight about Disneyland. As this is a blog, I would love to hear your opinions and insights on what are some interesting criteria of cities with similar level of happiness (economic, history, language, culture, consistency in the happiness level across the city … etc), and what do you hypothesize as causing changes in a city’s happiness level moving forward.
    I realize these may not be accurate, but as a reader I would love to hear opinions of a scientist who has spent countless hours slicing and dicing this data.

    Thanks :)

    Reply
  16. CPL

    I definately think you have some work to do on this analysis. For one thing, I don’t even HAVE a twitter. I don’t know how many folks from Beaumont, TX do have one, but I am assuming that the majority are in their teens to mid-twenties – and what else do they have to do but b**tch and complain about their lives? These days, that is all the younger generation seems to do. And do so plentifully, because in the world of twitter and Facebook, they are just concerned with getting a “RT” or “like” from their friends and followers. That being said, I think the chart and everything is a very neat idea, and I did enjoy your article and findings – it just needs some overall tweaking.

    Reply
  17. Holly Fahey Christensen

    Bend, Oregon should have a higher spot! I lived there for 3 years and it was such a great community! Denver (#56) is not better than Bend (#60), sorry.

    I was born and Raised in Southeast Texas, living in Colorado Springs (#116) now. I find it hard to believe that Beaumont is worse than Houma, LA & Flint, MI. Come on now.

    Reply
  18. Gdub2012

    I agree with Ed Beaumont is less than an hour from beaches, casinos, Houston, and Louisianna. The food is GREAT. when you move away from Beaumont for 20+ years you really learn to appreciate it. LOVE IT BMT

    Reply
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  20. Non native Beaumonter

    Beaumont gets a bum rap. It has its issues, sure, but it has a good heart.
    I say, wherever you go, there you are!

    Reply
  21. Annette Lee

    I think tweet is a lousy tool to use for evaluation. The demographics of tweet usage do not include many (let me emphasize, MANY) groups of citizens. I am 66, retired from computer management, extremely tech literate, and I think tweeting is (forgive the pun) for the birds. It is depressing for me to be in a crowd dotted with groups of young people, heads down, both hands gripping their treasured phones, eyes glazed and those wonderful oppose-able thumbs flying over the keyboard. Incidentally I live on the beautiful Central Coast of California, in the lovely Northern Monterey County hills; if it wasn’t for the hideous shock of suddenly living on Social Security and praying to get by without losing our home, we are deliriously happy. Besides, happiness is so relative, and it is never a constant. Little lustrous drops of happiness fall into our hands and we string them together like pearls; you wear those pearls and remember what each pearl meant. That leads to sweet peace and contentment. There will always be bumps in the road; either you fall in the mud, or you hop over the bump. Your choice: ALWAYS your choice.

    Reply
    1. Jamie Carter Bollich

      I agree that Tweets are not the optimum means for evaluation. And I concur that one must find his own happiness. In Beaumont, Texas we have the special challenge of a corrupt school board majority we can’t unseat or get outside officials to help us fight decisively. I would really like to live somewhere else because it’s a downer to be forced to pay taxes to support such a flawed entity and see our children deprived of the good school district they deserve.

      Reply
  22. Teressa M.

    As a native Napkin (from Napa, CA) I am flattered that we qualify as the happiest city!! Although I think tourists tweeting from our fair city might have skewed your results. It is a very happy place to visit.

    Reply
  23. fisherhorne

    Sorry, the words used to determine happy or sad just aren’t appropriate indicators of either.
    *sh1t* is not a sad word in Southeast Texas, it means *stuff*; “you left your *stuff* in my truck”, “did you see that *stuff*?” “HOLY *STUFF*!! That was fun/close/hilarious/drunk/fast/high/bada$$!!!!”
    There is another word *a$$*, that is no indicator of sadness. When combined with *bad* as in *Bad A$$* is a good thing to many in Southeast Texas. It can even be complementary in a juvenile sense when speaking of the posterior of the opposite gender; as in “fine *a$$*” or “that *a$$*”.
    In Southeast Texas, *damn* and *hell* are merely interjections, like *Oh*. In stead of “Oh, that’s good/fine/fun”, a SE Texan would say; “*Damn*, that’s good/fine/fun/etc.”
    To put a point on it, the phrase “Damn, look at that fine a$$, hell, I would” is not at all a sad thing in Southeast Texas. Neither would be the reply; “Dude, can’t touch that sh1t!!”

    Reply
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  25. Anthony Ledezma

    I am a Beaumont native, born and raised. Yes it may not be as fun or exciting as large cities, or small town friendly as some, but we are growing and learning. Yes we have crime and poverty but in society there is no such thing as a utopia because this is present everywhere. I am 20 and currently attending Lamar university and I love it. For most of my life I wanted to escape after the terrible school system here but I learned early in high school that the system was a result of ignorant citizens. Those who complained never did s#!+ to change things, and those who did were of ignorant mind sets only wanting to push the agenda they agreed with. Recently this is all slowly changing with the truly educated stepping forward to change things. Beaumont may not be the best, but its not the worst. I think its a good place to be a starting point in life. I love my town!

    Reply
  26. Kaiel

    I’m in San Francisco area and it is definitely the happiest place I have lived. I think a lot of it is so much nature around which naturally makes people feel good and of course the good wine doesn’t hurt either. You can also go from laying on the beach to skiing in the snow in just a 3 hour drive.

    Reply
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  29. Stephen

    So, the usage of the word “battle” in Battle Creek, Michigan (of all places!) computes as unhappiness? I call shenanigans.

    Reply
    1. Lewis Mitchell

      Great find Stephen! Battle Creek has indeed been treated somewhat unfairly here, and we should remove ‘battle’ from the list of words (our LabMT list) used to compute happiness. We will do this in the next update to the online appendices. Thank you very much for finding this for us!

      We have previously removed a few LabMT words that also appear in the names of various cities – for example, this is why you won’t see the word ‘santa’ appearing in the word shifts for Santa Cruz or Santa Fe. However, we try to do this as little as possible, and generally find the hedonometer to be sufficiently robust that the removal of one or two words does not significantly impact the calculation of happiness. Remember, these happiness scores are made up of the combined effect of many thousands of instances of thousands of words – it is a statistical tool in nature, and stable enough that individual words generally only make small contributions.

      That said, ‘battle’ in Battle Creek is certainly an oversight, and we will correct it. Again, thank you for spotting it for us. This is a great thing about so many people seeing our work – it is continually being improved by having you all as proofreaders!

      Reply
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  31. Ms. Joyce

    Uh, situated between the hell on earth Detroit and the slime Chicago, you had better believe Battle Creek, Michigan is one miserable place. I have lived in both Battle Creek and Chicago. They are on the same track, going in the same direction – spiraling, spiraling, spiraling. Except right now Chicago has more revenue with which to practice its craft of corruption.

    Reply
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  33. Mike

    Hi, I find this fascinating, but have to point out, I’m from Buffalo, and you have bills listed as a negative word and people here using it a lot. And while I agree the word is normally negative, and our football team here is pretty bad, I don’t think it’s quite fair to hold the city’s happiness rating down by mixing up tweets about the Buffalo Bills and people’s water, electric etc bills.

    Reply
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  35. john werneken

    For large places I have seen, Honolulu, Vancouver BC, and London would be very hard to beat. There are parts of Seattle, Portland OR-WA, New York City, Washington, and Boston that are so, but in those cases there seem to be far more parts that are not. Not wishing to speak ill and nothing much else, I shall leave Chicago, Kansas City, St Louis, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia alone.

    Reply
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  51. biancapetroiu

    Incredible work guys, I’m really impressed. I was doing a paper reasearch on the Wellbeing and capital market evolution in US, and looking for a happiness index sort of. I was wondering if you could give me an excel or access to a spreadsheet where I can find monthly values for 1 year, or 2, is that possible somehow?

    Reply

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