Which Language is the Happiest?

The news: According to the Pollyanna hypothesis, most people — regardless of cultural or sociolinguistic background — use positive words more often than negative words as part of a lifelong pursuit of happiness.

This hypothesis originated from a 1969 University of Illinois study that, until now, hasn't been sufficiently substantiated. But a recent study from the University of Vermont has lent new muscle to the concept. A team of researchers created an extensive database of languages around the world and discovered a clear bias towards words associated with positivity.

What does this mean? Researchers at the University of Vermont's Computational Story Lab provided 100,000 frequently-used words from 10 languages and asked native speakers to rate each word on a happiness scale. The research team collected around 5 million individual assessments in total and concluded, "Words — the atoms of human language — present an emotional spectrum with a universal positive bias."

But not all languages are created equal. Some languages are inclined to be happier than others. While Spanish, Portuguese and English top the list as the happiest languages, Chinese brings up the rear with the least bias towards positive words.



But that's not all. The researchers have also set up a cool, interactive site where you can analyze the texts of great novels such as Moby Dick, Frankenstein and Wuthering Heights, and see the distribution of positive and negative words. The feature allows you to select different sections of the text and see which words have the most influence in setting the tone of the story.



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Eileen Shim

Eileen is a writer living in New York. She studied comparative literature and international studies at Yale University, and enjoys writing about the intersection of culture and politics.

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