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The Pollyanna principle tells us that people are better at remembering pleasant things than unpleasant things. The principle also applies to language, as all languages appear to have a positivity bias - the words we use tend to be more positive than negative. Historically, this positivity bias had been difficult to measure, but the internet and digital communication have made it far easier for researchers to calculate whether languages skew positive or negative, and which are the "happiest."
Using online resources such as news articles, movie subtitles, Twitter, and Google Books, researchers from the University of Vermont and the MITRE Corporation selected 10,000 commonly used words in 10 languages (a total of 100,000 words). Next, native speakers assigned a happiness point value out of 9 to each of the words. It turns out that across all types of media, every language scored higher than 5, meaning that its lexicon is more positive than negative.
If you're happy and you know it:
- Spanish earned the highest score, followed by Brazilian Portuguese, English, Indonesian, German, and French.
- Chinese had the lowest score, though since it was still above the neutral 5, the researchers described it as "balanced" rather than negative. Korean, Russian, and Arabic were also relatively balanced.
- The researchers have also created a happiness meter, known as a "Hedonometer," which tracks the happiness trends of English-language Twitter posts. The Hedonometer's data trends can reveal the emotional state of people in various locations and from various demographics. It can also calculate which days people tend to use the most positive language. Not surprisingly, Christmas scores very highly.