Folium: Languages Are Mostly Made of Happy Words via The Atlantic

Folium: Languages Are Mostly Made of Happy Words via The Atlantic

Folium: Languages Are Mostly Made of Happy Words via The Atlantic


Words are an outlet for expressing feelings to others through text. There is a constant mix of positive and negative words used in YouTube Comments, Facebook Posts, and Tweets. Some may use language to harm, while others use it to analyze situations and lift others up. When I think of happy words I think of the movie Peter Pan when Peter says; “Just think of happy things, and your heart will fly on wings, forever, in Never Never Land!”.

“It’s easy to forget that people also use language as a scalpel, to dissect and understand complex things, and as a salve, to help and heal each other.”The Atlantic

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examined 100,000 words across texts in 10 different languages and found “a universal positivity bias.” In this study Spanish and Portuguese were the most “happy” languages. When I became more familiar with the Spanish language, I felt an urge to speak more of the happy words because that is what I was drawn to the most. Although we may see a lot of hate on the internet, the research done in the study shows that there is a universal positivity bias in the words we use on a daily basis. Just think about it, we use more happy words than sad words!

The Hedonometer?

The Hedonometer?

Native speakers of the 10 different languages were asked to rate the “happiness” of each word on a scale from 1 to 9, where 9 was “happy”, 1 was “unhappy”, and 5 was neutral. In English, “laughter” rated 8.50, “food” 7.44, “greed” 3.06, and “terrorist” 1.30.

I know that food is a happy word at least in my life, because – let’s be honest – food makes us happy! I would consider “food” a very happy word. The study found that a Google search of Spanish-language sites had the highest number of “happy” words, while Chinese books had the lowest. I’m a little biased towards Spanish being the happiest language on earth, but the study shows that all 10 languages studied, scored higher than a 5.

Language should be used as a positive tool. We don’t realize the happiness that we can bring to others through our words. This positive bias in language “is not what people think when they read the paper or listen to music on the radio or read YouTube comments,” said Christopher Danforth, the co-author of the study. In addition to this study, the researchers also created an online “happiness meter.” The hedonometer tracks twitter posts in real time to measure the amount of happy words used in tweets during the year during holidays or tragedies.

“The Pollyanna Hypothesis asserts that there is a universal human tendency to use evaluatively positive words (E+) more frequently and diversely than evaluatively negative words (E-) in communicating.”

Another feature of the happiness tool is that it can measure the happiness score in books. We see that in Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” the happiness word level dropped because of the tragic ending, while Alexandre Dumas’ “The Count of Monte Cristo” ends on a high happiness level score. I would hope that this article would receive a high happiness score.

The world may seem tragic, but just remember that this study concluded that language in humans is prone to use more happy words than sad!

Julie Martin
LEAF Editor & Contributor