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First Evidence For the Happiness Paradox--That Your Friends Are Happier Than You Are

By Technology Review

February 22, 2016

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Mathematical analysis has demonstrated the validity of the claim that most people's friends have more friends than they do, while the greater popularity of those friends also may explain the increasingly viable observation that using social networks to excess makes people more unhappy.

The research has engendered broad speculation that the distribution of happiness across a social network also could support a happiness paradox, in which happiness correlates with popularity.

Indiana University in Bloomington's Johan Bollen and colleagues have uncovered initial evidence of a happiness paradox on Twitter, via an analysis of the most recent 3,000 tweets sent by about 40,000 Twitter users. An algorithm analyzed each tweet to determine its sentiment, and then assumed this evokes a sense of the user's level of happiness while also including the number of followers and followees for every individual.

The researchers found not only a friendship paradox in action, but also a happiness paradox. They say the evidence implies the less happy the individual, the stronger the happiness paradox they face--a surprising finding because unhappy people also appear to experience a less-significant friendship paradox.

"Instead of resulting from the greater prevalence of popular and happy individuals, it could come about by the social interactions between people," the researchers say. "In other words, unhappiness is more infectious than happiness for certain individuals."

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