Relationships and Happiness

By Ravi Grover on Sunday, February 14, 2010 at 3:48pm

It’s Valentine’s Day, and for Data Scientists and others alike, it’s the perfect time to ask the question: Does having that someone special really make us happy?

We already have methodology for measuring the happiness of Facebook users: by considering how many positive words people use in their status updates (see the USA Gross National Happiness Index). This method allows us to see whether a person's Facebook relationship status affects how positive and negative they are. We examined the use of positive and negative words in the status updates of all English speakers over the course of one week in January. To protect your privacy, no one at Facebook actually reads the status updates in the process of doing this research; instead, our computers do the word counting after all personally identifiable information has been removed.

The result is mostly a case of data showing what we already know: Just as expected, people who are in a relationship or marriage do seem to be happier than everyone else. People who are in a relationship seem less happy compared to married folks, but there is less variation in both positivity and negativity amongst married people. Married people, however, tend to be older, and we know from other studies that people do become happier as they age.

There are also some surprises. Being in an open relationship seems to be a real bummer, and positivity amongst people with that status is even lower than people who list themselves as being widowed or “it’s complicated” (and FAR worse than being single!). Widowed people, on the other hand, show less emotion overall, either positive or negative.

Men are less happy in open relationships than women, which makes sense considering that 40% more women report themselves to be in an open relationship than men. Guys are more positive than girls when in a relationship or married, but they are more negative when married or engaged.

What is also interesting is that people who do not disclose their relationship status are about 50% more negative than everyone else. What can their actual relationship status be that makes them so bitter about it? In any case, rest assured. About 30% of women and 40% of men on Facebook are listed as single, and there are still 365 days until next year’s Valentine's!

Lisa is a student at the University of Waterloo and an intern on Facebook's data team.