Alex meets a scientist who has built a tool meant to do the impossible -- measure the world's overall happiness and sadness. Plus, Alex volunteers for a risky and strange experiment.
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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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so PDA, hello, hello, Alex Peter. How is this year been for you terms, year mood
I mean you're laughing, you must mean great.
Sure, sucked this year has been a bleak and bad, and winter feels bleed.
And better yeah winters really freaking me out. I'm actually very scared about what winter is going to be like. How are you doing
Well, I suppose you should ask so I read this article asked last week in the times about these researchers
trying to like measure and plot everybody's happiness on a day to day level, everyone in the world yeah, and they made this thing that they call the Hedonometer like hedonism. Yes, exactly hedonism, okay and I was like okay. I want to talk to these guys because first of all, happiness seems like a very slippery concept that I can't even begin to
and how one would measure for and second of all, if they can measure happiness. How can this help me? A person who is generally very unhappy, so I reached out to these researchers, ended up talking to one of his name's PETE
dad, I go. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. I really appreciate it lots of pleasure
is a data scientist. He teaches at the University of Vermont. Do you think
yourself as a happy person. No, I think I'm I've friend
the discrepancies melancholy, I suppose so.
Miserable have miserable happiness, is illogical.
Wouldn't I'm irrelevant. Let me say that I am a relevant like I'm totally irrelevant, I think, is one of the most important agrees
daddy social from large scale. You have always
stories from your life, which really matter you know, I mean obviously to you, but when you
To get out and think about how systems work you have to kind to throw them away.
Just a second might. My in my infant daughter, just ran up, ran up high path,
I'm in the middle of an interview. Can you go downstairs? No okay, please!
Hold on a second to get. I love. This is
do you want to say hi Peter? No, alright. Why not sorry do you want to take your cookies and take them to mommy? Yes, sorry about that
so the Hedonometer this project that Peter came up with the measure happiness
He started working on it in two thousand seven. He and another researcher friend of his gun increase, stand forth. Had this kind,
wild idea which is like okay,
governments are always making decisions based on things like GDP, things that are really easy to quantify, what, if we could make our happiness, something that we can also quantify, then we could start making policy decisions based on like the thing that we judge our country on its just like
for the most part, is the country making more money this year than last year. Maybe I did fewer people die or whatever, and that can mean a lot of different things. It doesn't necessarily mean that people's lives are better or worse right, so back when they were sketching out what the Hedonometer could look like the whole time, they're thinking to themselves like
What is our data source going to be, and then they hear about this new website? It's called twitter and it seems, like I
really useful place to get a constantly updating stream of people start famously. The website, where I can happy we analyze
that we analyze it open on my phone. I want to feel better, so we wrote to Twitter in two thousand and eight. There are only four people working there and said: hey. This is Cole. Could you like
you have. Your query gets a lot of milk or we made a little research, creed, research, a feed and, and we ve been going type, so the tweets ever since that and ten percent of all tweets which at that time was practically. Nothing is now like fifteen million tweets a day, and I'm talking just about the english language, tweets
Their building a bunch of different languages, but so far they ve only publish data about the English speaking world anyway. What they did is they decided they'd
analyze, whether the words that people were tweeting, where like happy words or sad words, so they took ten thousand words and they ask people on a site.
How happy or sad does this word make you feel okay and they use that to give each word a relative weight
what are give me an example. The word hold I'm date, so
I'm loading up the examples hold on I'm actually going to screen share with you. If that's okay, can you see my screen.
Yeah there's actually allow a list of words. So what we're
at right now are all of the ten thousand words they selected ranked from one the saddest to nine the happiest and the happiest words are like laughter happiness, love happy. Can you guess what the unhappiest word might be die? So that's not bad. Actually, it's right up there. The unhappiest word is a tie between suicide and terrorists. That makes sense, and then the third from the saddest word right now is corona virus. I'm almost surprised it didn't win yeah me too, but
especially since pretty close to the top of the unhappiest words, are where it's like: ventilators ventilator self, quarantine, sanitizer. These are among the unhappiest words. It's like a magnetic poetry of everything. That's bad this year, tortured violence, cruel cry! Can we go back to the happy side? Yeah comedy jokes: rich, celebrate weekend: music healthy, so they're constantly having to update this list of words, like all those covid words just got out,
pre recently, but they also have to remove words from the west like words that they can't measure anymore, because the meaning is changed so much one example that a few years ago was the thirsty
just gonna kind of a good word right. It's a good are worded maids you wanna drink drink, something right, it it moved, and then there was some sort of twitter like massively
weightings of people just think that he has many times they couldn't a tweet and it just over one, the system a little bit more like ok, what to wear it. Where retiring. That would say,
these these words that are on on this happiness, scale from one to nine and to figure out this thing is actually working is his
the identifying happiness and sadness they have
the head on a meter analyze a bunch of different text where the mood is really easy to follow, like
They ran it on the text of crime and punishment. They did for the count of Monte Cristo Brokers Edward well. He dynamite,
correctly analyzed it for what it is like a book that start happy gets sad and then get happy again. This is actually,
application Obese over make has like some like things that I read
and watch really affect my mood, a lot and so like it is Macy's Alec child has I'd like this is gonna, be sound,
I see you act like unto had been summoned to toss it into the head on a meter deceived. You feel good or bad at the end yet and sat in the middle. Fine, just don't leave me there, but yeah it seems like
Peter and his team are getting good information from the heat centimeter. Ok. So what? If? What? If so, assuming assuming that this tool is usually describing something? What is what happens when it pointed it out this year? Well, they ve run it on twitter since two thousand and eight so, and so they have this like big map of happiness in the English speaking world for like the last twelve years. So if you go to the heat automated website, it's a big graph. That kind of looks like a star.
Market graph with like spikes of happiness in dips of sadness over the years, and if you click on specific dates, you can see the most used words on twitter that day and one of the things that they learned by grafting. All this info is like, globally
speaking, we do not have big moments of spontaneous global happiness. The only thing that unites us in happiness is like big holidays, like for english speakers. Christmas has the biggest
it, not just us up a little bit, so Christmas becomes kind of a a yard, stick of sorts and how many christmases did you get for this,
You know this jumper bump unhappiness all the other way down. So is it useful? So when you and your team see something like ok, it went up like half a Christmas day, went down half a Christmas day, its friends, our farming. But that's that's not about waited
think the only other positive event that even slightly moves the need all the way the holidays do is when a k pop star has a birthday and Peter knew nothing about, came up and only
ruling analyzing language for several years was like what is BT ass up up up if it is, but the bigger thing that the he down a meter is showing is that we are at the tail end of a long happiness. Nosedive
according to Peter. The Hedonometer shows that the last five years we've been getting sadder and sadder between two and sixteen, and now we have lost a Christmas day of happiness as a world
as an english everybody in the English speaking world before this year,
Saturday on record was the LAS Vegas shooting and twenty seventeen. We have broken that record multiple times this year.
First time was on March twelve, which was the day that the stock market tanked the NBA season was suspended.
Places started to shut down, and so the heat animator hit a new record. Well, it's like there's something satisfy about knowingly broke the unhappiness needle lake
because I want to thank the thing I'm tired of going to this Winters Lake was just like it's like really hard core training for all the sadness you'll ever experienced and life again giving get through this. It's like you, ve, beat the extremely coarse and lay just having scientists confirm what
New is that this was the most miserable year. Just feels nice, I'm. So that was just the first time that
the Hedonometer record was broken this year it was broken again in May, so the twenty
I may, with the day simultaneously ain't the Amy Cooper event in central Park happen.
You remember the one that was awful. She called the cops on a black man who was a bird watcher and then falsely claimed he was threatening to assault her. He was just asking her to lease your dog. That was a bad day. That was also the day that George Flood was killed, oh right and so five days later,
Sunday may thirty. First one to the head on a meter was the unhappy in the in the entire English speaking world, since two thousand eight also wasn't the day of his death, it was the day that it had sunk, infer, everybody everybody to earn about heard, I mean
it's interesting just seeing it like this huge spike of sadness that we all felt at the same time, wow now
say it's like. I also remember distinctly. If was for once. There is one
topic on the internet for a while for, like quite a while, it was like there was. Nobody was like, oh by the way. I want to pick a fight about this thing or whatever. It was really like one topic and it was an extreme
sad topic yet and that feeling that we all had that's actually exactly what they
nanometer showed us.
Because, usually when there's
tragic event. It takes a day or two days to get back to serve the normal
average happiness on the meter, but in the case of George Floyd, the needle dropped and it took an entire month.
But returning to normal, isn't really saying a lot because the baseline of the years, just so sad,
It's just so stark for me to watch to like look at this graph like
actually extended out and see, see the past. I guess for years and years, and it's just the negative spikes seen so much deeper and.
Longer lasting. I mean we keep sending these workers rights of the bombing in about the Boston, Martha that was recorded. The turn right for us, but the pulse nightclub in Orlando,
and then the measuring LAS Vegas that was so extreme, but then
then we get to Covid nineteen and George Floyd. I like finding new new depths, essentially for this kind of collector.
Well being, is a traumatized population.
So. Obviously, a lot of very hard stuff has hit all of us in a pretty short amount of time, and it's like very depressing to think about, but in another way it's like kind of comforting to
able to quantify at least a little bit how bad twenty twenty has been an
I was looking over all this data and I was like I would
if there's any way to like see. If I line up with this
this is my happiness affected. Do like
and I also becoming sadder. You know
This is the rare reporting question I feel like. I could probably answer for you ask and anyone who works with you. Well,
said that as a policy, they don't analyze individual people's data like they don't even gather individual data because they don't
that he dynamiter to be surveillance tool, but he's
that if I wanted to give him my data to analyze, he would be willing to make an exception. Leave all your
with the? I believe it is now my my tweets Otto delete every two weeks, which is that is like the one kindness I performed for the world.
But I was like I was like. I wonder when I could measure Europe
we should show through on privacy, is a beautiful.
Yeah, I'm wondering what kind of data set would work for me. I mean maybe my
the emails I send, but probably not because I mostly just send work emails. They're, not gonna, be fun. What about my text messages? I bet that would be
yeah, that's stuff, best stuff, that high quality
So I scraped the last.
years years worth of outgoing text messages from phone, absolutely psychotic, psychotic. Thirteen,
Thousand six hundred and sixty text messages
in a spreadsheet. The word cloud, okay and I gave them to Peter and
In addition to being a professor at the University of Vermont. He also has this company called quake with these other.
Researchers, Andy Reagan and Christine forth, and they they worked on. They they parsed they passed. The data gave them so just some basic right, but in thousands of course the forty thousand messages about forty a day. We do the same things we did. He die. We we lower case them and break them up. It's a good, that's good about it. We basically wrote me like an academic paper about my text. It's called inheritances Jerry. It's called a consideration of the text. Messages sent by Mr Hours, Goldman from twenty ninth from October, sixteen twenty nineteen to act over fifteen twenty twenty, it's like it s like a real step forward in the field of biotechnology-
we finally doing some field work, he found a lot of heart emojis! That's for your wife, a lot of Lols! That's for me! You have a good supply of eggplant emojis, I'm just going to say that that is a surprise to me. That is a surprise. I'm just going to leave it. So that's
true. I have to say I wasn't super nervous about this and how we actually started diving into the data. My heart rate, I definitely rising for how to break up some of these like emerges. Can I just it emerges that the most ridiculous things in the world, but something's it didn't break up, there's one which has got some words in its Like Tory Party Pooper, Margie ass tall ass, I like a flying doll, assigned twice- maybe two goats and then a couple smiley faces. That's like a blob,
I'm just going to leave it as a plus, that's something that I wrote and then he found a bunch of what he called stretchable words, which is where you add like where it like. I spell
add, with nine as
so that a lot? That's usually when you're
and then he said I found a
with thirteen hours and approve with fifteen efforts that
they, when you're either happier manic. It's totally right. It solely right away to consult me so Peter actually broke out for me. My texts between three p m in six, a M propaganda, like effect of you, thought you don't tat country. I don't it's well well what he said. What he wrote was? U dont text so much during this time because of the whole sleeping,
but when you do it's not a happy time so number one with a bullet is terrible, followed by never shit asshole shot, which is me misspelling shit. No, not yet ass all shot, not sorry, murder,
pop up up up up up up our views, and then you get you out of your serial killer with Gee. I problem each show weird listened, it could have better shows up in there and then its mean wars, suffering crime hated dying, hates adjust its like,
What am I talking about in the middle of the night, I of know you're about
Dj is not in there. Okay. So here's a question for you. What do you think you'll love to hate ratio is, I would say,
that for every ratio for every one love, there's five hates, I would say so sexually one love to hate.
See I did take out one that was Lovecraft, because I presume you've be watching HBO
but the shape of my happiness. He the shape of my happy by Alex called man. One man's travels through himself to myself how my forthcoming self help book,
ok, so Peter started with October of last year. He zoomed in on that month and told me that, like
compared to Twitter. I was actually doing pretty good. I can talk you through the woods a little bit. Yes, please so October last year you know it's above right, so you've got more love and like and life, and so you've got these kind of words. You've got negative words right, it's a it's a mixture, but you are still managing
so they above meaning October twenty nineteen. According to the head on a meter, I was happy,
than most people. I don't remember,
those months being happier or less miserable than any other time like for me
everything kindness meares together. It's really hard to remember when the
genuine unhappiness of twenty twenty started, but accordingly
he'd centimeter. I was my happiest in October or November of last year and I was trying to think back to what was going on and I feel like I've
going to feel about it and fear is a much better memory for when I was doing less than I do for some reason and
might be because I was working on. Thank you for noticing
sorry about John in Santa FE which west there yet audiphoned?
I live in a trap going on a trip. You scared the weeds, store, very scared of the wheat store or the start. It's like your most just. You are personally most unhappy when you don't have an idea for a story and their happiness when you're in the reporting for a story, the reporting for that
in October and also in October. I remember I went to this wedding and the cat skills and I spent the weekend up there and it was really nice.
And in November I went to for Thanksgiving. I went to Florida with my
Then we got to hang out on the beach and I think that accounts for like a lot of happiness points, because the kids really love it and then being happy makes me happy. Bull should have on their like this. Will I would I would not, I would
sitter consenting to this happening automatically on my phone, where we're just be like hey, you ve, you seem unhappy what's going on and it would just kind of lake.
You are a lot happier last November and also you are like walking outside more just like I dont that voice in my head is really under developed, like noticing, when I'm sinking or noticing. Why wasn't sinking before me
okay so December. I'm guessing you go down. He gave me a chart. Yes December, goes down a bit and continues to go down, and then your past the holidays, and then it's just deep winter January February and then you're like thank God soon it will be March. I able to go outside a lot mix it up with my friends in various restaurants catch a movie in a movie theater, so it might shock you, but March was a bad month for me. You start, then you have mad and corona virus and rejected and hated and hate and painful and cried and stressed and death. Those things are in there, it was going down, but what surprised me is that
last month's September was the worst month of the year for me so far, and when I think back down a meter was picked up on is the fact that, like Harvey is having a hard time a school which just started, I was very worried:
Was constantly texting. Sarah about it and October
which we've only got half of the month. Wait! It's still worse. You started above twitter, you were like half a Christmas day above but now you're down, you are with all of twitter, the one big mass of twitter you're at the same level yeah, and I guess, if we linearly interpolate, you go down below twitter.
So it's going down man Peter says that I am not alone that Twitter is in this crazy downward trajectory on the meter. This October
I'm looking at the word cloud for some of these days in its prisons thugs protein.
Do you have any idea to what that is attributed so that got one
Is Nigeria and actual? That's? That's all.
So this is because it's global that one got pushed in there. So that's like points to like just how this everything is going on, because that bluster,
Is Trump Corona buyers there's the debate with by
Let us just just
just a milestone of stories. Of course, its precipitated by Ginsberg death,
like it just looks like it's like it just looks like we're.
Off a cliff, doesn't feel great. I think like
I don't know, I think. On the one hand, a lot of the factors that are making things hard are just completely out of our control and it is nice to know everyone's in the same misery and at some point everyone won't be in that same misery. I keep thinking of that poem. That's like laughing the whole world last week
if you cry, and you cry alone, and it's exactly untrue if you laugh you're laughing according to this machine, if you laugh, you are laughing by yourself and if you cry the whole world is crying with you. So is this like an advertisement for depression? Now? What are you saying? Ask your doctor about the depression. I mean honestly, I sort of feel like the big thing I get out of this. Is you know yeah
Jerry person who complaints a lot about the world and the things that are bothering you like unfeeling
like. I don't really like this description of myself, but like the thing that this proves is like you are having a hard time of this than most people like the thing that is affecting everybody. It is affecting you
more and there's a part of me. That's like what right do I even have like I've got like like I'm in
wade my yeah yeah. I know you like you as a person with a conference like legally obligated to note these things, but like as a person who s who experienced the world, like you can't tell your unhappiness, that other people have worse really like I've. Never found that to be a particularly useful strategy is, if anything, you're, just like an screw you for feeling this way like I don't know for me, it's like! Maybe there's nothing you can do with it. For me, it is majority by operator.
Thank you for keeping an eye out for me. No thank you for telling me that I complain all the time. This is not. Surely this is not new information
No, it's not that
after the break nice warm bath,
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Ok, so Alex one everything's serve the he down he down a metre has me think you, I guess is like the idea that you kindly tell yourself a story about your relentless unhappiness, but
You could miss a moment of happiness that happens within a year. I mean yeah unless you're like super conscious and deliberate about trying to be happy or like being like today is the day you know, let me place
about my wife. She will she like
is the extra mile just to make her life like two like iota, is better better everyday
every day I come downstairs and there's like half a lemon and I'm like. What's going on with the lemon she just likes to put lemon in her water, she wants to make her life better. Two things one, I think most functional people are like your wife. Well, I agree. I find it weird. I think anybody else listening, just like wow
The world is really different from inside depression of equipment. We really who are these weird freaks that aren't just like trying to make their lives miserable, so this isolated. What I wanted to talk to you about, which is Lake Ivy League, would like, as I said, very terrified of design coming winter
I've been trying to notice lake retrain those things that I'd try to do to make myself happy that are actually just approach that that, like that get depressing real, fast playing video.
An our cool playing video games for nine hours like less school and I've also been trying to notice, like the small kind of like
lemon water type. Things like little things that you do for yourself actually actually do make you just incrementally happy happy like they're, not raising you like a Christmas standard, deviation they're just giving
point one more on whatever day you're on you know, I have to say revealing this somehow feels
like more vulnerable to marry exporting my text messages has two to a
spreadsheet and sending them to a researcher work has either and think it. So it's like literally this weird little way your tried to shares of a tiny bit of love or it's such a basic thing that is like embarrassing to methods, can take up up up up up, I've become a bath.
I became a candle guy off, F, F, F, F, F, F, F, I have to say: if we can buy in are our respective joys we could be
more powerful than the scented candles and a bath when did bath? Guy start.
I don't know it started. Last month I was like I was like what, if I take a like what, if, instead of
like just getting in the shower to clean myself. I will lie
sit in the tub for a while and just do nothing, listen to podcasts play the matching on mansion, just chill you're playing you
back in your playing your shitty Iphone game. You know a brother, I like her, you managed to put catch up on everything. Now I mean that's it. That's nice, it's like its. It is the closest
to the like, complete, like brain, shut off time that I had when I used to have a commute when I had to sit on a train forever and just not think about anything and like just be just exist, read a book that is totally fair. I think, in the spirit of this endeavor, I'm not going to make fun
You play magic advance. Well, that ships kind of thing I'm asking you because I actually wanted to do. I wanted to ask our listeners. I feel like our sort of forays into not being miserable all the time are. They are they're, tentative. First,
that most the Bush league, I think we're the JV team and you want to see what varsity selfcare site looks like yeah, I'm kind of curious for what people do a little bit selfishly like heading into a hard season and a little bit like as a gift for everyone else heading into a hard season. Like the stuff, you figured out the
making a bed in the morning or taking a walk like really like fundamentals of human happiness, one hundred and one to see what's working for people, that's actually a pretty good idea. What's her email and which of the subject
your email is reply. All like inlet, media, dot, com or the subject line should be. I don't know varsity selfcare varsity selfcare and I think what we want is for people to record a voice. Memo describe anything. I mean bonus points if you want to record it. While doing
But yet just send us send us with working for me.
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And me Alex Golden our show is produced this week
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Song is by the mysterious big master cylinder additional.
Production by Marie Romano, Especial thanks this week to Chris Danforth and Andy Reagan. Matt Labour is at least equally
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Transcript generated on 2020-11-22.