English: a "Happy" Language

English may be an idiosyncratic language, but it is actually a "happy" language. Mathematicians from Cornell University and the University of Vermont analyzed Google Books, Twitter, popular song lyrics and The New York Times to find that there are more positive than negative words in the English language:

Led by the University of Vermont’s Isabel Klouman, the researchers decided to approach the question with overwhelming mathematical force. They analyzed four enormous textual databases — 361 billion words in 3.29 million books on Google Books, 9 billion words in 821 million tweets issued between 2008 and 2010, 1 billion words in 1.8 million New York Times articles published from 1987 to 2007, and 58.6 million words from the lyrics of 295,000 popular songs — and compiled for each a list of the 5,000 most-used words.

This produced a list of 10,122 words. The researchers then used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk labor-outsourcing service to obtain 50 separate evaluations of each word, which were scored from negative to positive on a scale of 1 to 9. (“Terrorist,” for example, received an average score of 1.30, while “laughter” merited an 8.50, the highest of any word.)

Altogether, positive-inflected words outnumbered the negative, and were used more frequently. The findings “suggest that a positivity bias is universal,” wrote Klouman and colleagues. “In our stories and writings we tend toward pro-social communication.”

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