Happy Days and Happy Times
<P>Are there happy days and happy times?</P>
Posted October 11, 2008
In an earlier blog entry ("The Geography of Bliss"), I wrote about happy places--physical locales where people are likely to be happy. In this entry, I write about a related topic: happy days and happy times--days of the week and times during these days when people are likely to be in good moods. My thinking about this topic was sparked by a 2006 study that recently came to my attention.
Rada Mihalcea and Hugo Liu are computer scientists who asked one of the questions of central concerns to positive psychology. "Whence happiness in everyday life?" Given their expertise, they looked to the Internet, scrutinizing thousands of blog entries at www.livejournal.com, a site that features brief diary-like entries. Those who post are given the option of indicating their mood when they post. A number of mood descriptions are possible, including happy and sad; this research focused on the happy and sad entries. (From my perspective, it would have been desirable to include as well entries described as neutral, given the positive psychology assumption that happiness is not simply the absence of sadness, and vice versa.)
Ten thousand entries were studied, half of them happy and half of them sad, and the first step in the research was to use a word-count program to identify words and combinations of words more likely to occur in "happy" entries than in "sad" entries. A happiness factor was calculated reflecting the ratio of occurrence in the happy entries versus the sad entries. Appreciate that word-count programs simply count words and overlook the big semantic picture. So, "love" did not have an extremely high happiness factor, but I assume this is because blog entries about heartbreak, divorce, and so on would likely use the word love but be tagged as sad. In any event, the happiest words usually accorded with common sense: e.g., birthday, concert, lunch, and books, as did the saddest words, e.g., goodbye, hurt, tears, and died.
Then the researchers examined the happiness factors associated with each day of the week, finding that Wednesday was the saddest day, whereas Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday were the happiest days--and especially Saturday. Similar analyses for the time of day showed that early morning hours (7:00 AM - 9:00 AM) were particularly sad, whereas the evening hours were particularly happy, increasingly so up to 10:00 PM. There was also a happiness factor peak at 2:00 - 4:00 AM, which the researchers speculated was due to many of the blog writers at this site being night people.
The authors offered a playful recipe for happiness based on their analysis of words: "Go shop for something new ... then have lots of food, for dinner preferably ... then go to an interesting place ... [do this] on a Saturday ... If all this happens on your birthday, even better."
Strictly speaking, this was a study of words and not a direct investigation of the psychology of people who use the words. Nonetheless, these findings complement research by psychologists on mood variation that uses diary methods or experience sampling methods to document fluctuations across days of the week and times of the day (e.g., Larsen & Kasimatis, 1990; Rusting & Larsen, 1998). Different results are found across studies, although most investigations point to Saturday as a happy day.
I enjoyed the research because it made me think. One thought was sparked by learning about a website that allows the mood of blog writers to be identified. Wouldn't it be interesting if all of life came with an annotation of mood by the principal players? This would remove some of the guesswork in making sense of what someone has just been done to, for, or in the vicinity of us, like praise or criticism from our boss, good or bad deeds by our loved ones, and important policy decisions by our country's leaders. To be sure, one's mood does not drive all or even most of what one does, but research is clear that mood has an effect, for better or for worse. Some of us are skilled at discerning mood, our own and that of others, but the rest of us might benefit from a little help in the process, at least if people play the mood-annotation game in a sincere way.
Another thought was about my own blog behavior and when I did it. My entries here--twelve in number prior to this one--were posted on various days of the week, but half of them on a Friday, a fact of which I was unaware until I just checked. Mind you, they were not written the day I posted them. The way I work is to draft some ideas and then fiddle with them for several days or more. But maybe I post the final drafts when I am in a good enough mood to think that someone might actually be interested in what I have written, a thought rarely present during the writing and rewriting. Maybe Friday is a happy day for me, as it is for many other people, and maybe I can finish things on happy days. I used to think that finishing things--like a blog entry--made me happy, but now I'm wondering if it might be the other way around.
And for what it is worth, my Friday posts get more hits than those on other days, whereas my Wednesday posts are not nearly so popular. To quote Mother Goose: "Wednesday's child is full of woe ... [but] ... Friday's child is loving and giving." Or it could simply be that people have more time to surf the Internet on the weekend.
Almost all of my entries were posted in mid-to-late afternoon. This fact may be telling, because I am on and off my computer all day long and in principle could post an already-written entry anytime I have a few minutes to do so. I've always known that I like the afternoon. That's when I teach my classes and when I prefer to give talks. Morning is over, and evening is yet to come. Life is pretty good for me in the middle of the afternoon.
I don't know how other writers for Psychology Today approach their blog entries. Some are my friends and colleagues, and we communicate occasionally about the content or style of our entries, but not about the process by which we wrote them and certainly not about why we posted them when we did. At least for me, the findings of Mihalcea and Liu have implications that make sense.
In the future, I'm going to pay more attention to the day of the week when I start and finish things (not just blog entries), and I'm going to be more aware of my mood vis-à-vis my actions. If I can see some patterns beyond posting blog entries, I hope I can use this information to live my life in a better way, if only by avoiding Wednesdays.
The book of Ecclesiastes tells us that to everything there is a season. It looks like there is also a day and a time.
Christopher Peterson, in a whimsical mood
Posted Saturday at ~4:05 PM EST
Mihalcea, R., & Liu, H. (2006, March). A corpus-based approach to finding happiness. In Proceedings of computational approaches for analysis of weblogs, AAAI Spring Symposium. Stanford, CA.