AM Inspiration: Hedonometers and the Balance Sheet of the Mind

At this very minute, a hedonometer is at work, perhaps about to add this post to its calculations about the happiest and saddest days across the internet. If scientists have always had a hard time measuring something as objective as happiness, why would researchers Peter Dodds and Chris Danforth ever turn to virtual phenomena like blogs and tweets?

The scientists started at the Web site, which combs through 2.3 million blogs looking for sentences that begin with "I feel" or "I am feeling."

The words that came next were ranked on a happiness scale of 1 to 9. A total of 1,034 words were ranked, with "triumphant" registering at 8.87 on one side of the scale and "hostage" measuring at 2.20 at the other end.

And the site,, is well worth the visit. You can find out who's feeling "adamant" in Arkansas, or "wistful" in Wisconsin, reading their post or tweet. Seeing an aggregate of the human experience, this whirl of emotions among people--strangers--who nevertheless share a commonality that they could never's strangely moving to see humanity written large and written small at the same time.

While no doubt some fascinating data will be accumulated by the project, happiness is by nature an anarchic concept. As the poem below by Rabindranath Tagore states, there's something to be said for that which cannot be measured.

What I got,

And what I did not.

Today my mind refuses to draw a balance sheet.

In the light and shadow of my heart

The flute is playing a glad music.

I loved this earth, I loved it;

That memory alone comes back to my mind

Over and over again,

How the southern breeze of many springs

Filled my vessel to its brim.

My tears lie hidden in the deep chambers of the heart

Silently and in secret their pathos makes fruitful my spiritual quest.

True, the string broke now and then.

But who is going to cry over it.

Still the melody did play true, time and again.

That alone comes back to mind.

Today my mind refuses to strike a balance sheet

Of what I got.

And what I did not.

Tags: Blog, Community, Human, Internet, Measurement, Online, Sociology, Web

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