We’re so happy: Asheville ranks high in HuffPo happiness meter

Never mind that we’ve experienced the wettest July on record (and really, it’s got to be the wettest year ever). And never mind that the lower half of the Southeast gets dubbed “the sadness belt,” due to high unemployment and poverty, and a few other matters. In Asheville, we’re happy. At least, that’s what the Huffington Post says.

Here in Asheville, a few clouds, some torrential rains and middling economic growth can’t keep us down (we’ve got some of the lowest unemployment rates in Western North Carolina). We’re relatively content.

At least, that’s what the Huffington Post has concluded, placing Asheville on its map of the United States’ happiest places. Our ranking comes from “a study of geotagged tweets published earlier this year in PLoS ONE by researchers at the University of Vermont,” HuffPo reports. “The team scored more than 10,000 words on a positive-negative scale and measured their frequency in millions of tweets across the country, deliberately ignoring context to eliminate experimental bias. What emerged was significant regional variation in happiness by this calculation, which correlates with other lifestyle measures such as gun violence, obesity and Gallup’s traditional wellbeing survey. A sadness belt across the South includes states that have high levels of poverty and the shortest life expectancies.”

And here’s how those researchers say they came to various conclusions about the state of happiness in America, “by combining (1) a massive, geo-tagged data set comprising over 80 million words generated in 2011 on the social network service Twitter and (2) annually-surveyed characteristics of all 50 states and close to 400 urban populations. Among many results, we generate taxonomies of states and cities based on their similarities in word use; estimate the happiness levels of states and cities; correlate highly-resolved demographic characteristics with happiness levels; and connect word choice and message length with urban characteristics such as education levels and obesity rates. Our results show how social media may potentially be used to estimate real-time levels and changes in population-scale measures such as obesity rates.”

Whew!

The short version here, says HuffPo: “Which way to happy? Geographically speaking, it’s the route to Hawaii, Maine or one of the clusters of blissful cities in California and Colorado.”

It’s also worth noting that for “life satisfaction,” the United States seems to rank in the top half, compared to other countries around the world. We’ve got way more “life satisfaction” than the Russian Federation (a mere 3 on a scale of 10), or Hungary (a 0) or Portugal (1). But with a life-satisfaction of 7.5, we’re well below those happy Scandinavians, Icelanders and the Swiss (Switzerland boasts a 10). What’s their secret? And why is Hawaii the happiest state and Louisiana the gloomiest?

HuffPo posits that “socioeconomic factors that influence happiness in the U.S., such as poverty, unemployment and government resources, also account for some of the variation.”

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About Margaret Williams
Managing Editor Margaret Williams has been at Xpress since 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987.

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