Twitter’s vast quantities of real-time, fine-grained data make it an ideal resource for sociological research.

Scientists and statisticians can study Twitter for insights on people’s spending habits, what they watch on TV, their political views, and even their happiness.

Which is exactly what a group of researchers did, conducting an analysis of 10 million geotagged tweets to determine the happiest and most depressed states and cities in America. And the findings are fascinating.

First off, how do millions of disparate tweets turn into a happiness barometer?

The researchers coded 10 million geotagged tweets gathered from 373 urban areas in the contiguous United States during the calendar year 2011 for their happiness content, based on the appearance and frequency of words determined by Mechanical Turk workers to be happy (rainbow, love, beauty, hope, wonderful, wine) or sad (damn, boo, ugly, smoke, hate, lied).

Here’s a look at the coding (cue the eye glaze):

The results? Check it out:

As The Atlantic notes, dissecting this study, many people vacation in Napa (the top city) and Hawaii (the stop state). That could skew the results. But that being said, cities (Longmont, Green Bay, Spokane, San Jose) and states (Idaho, Maine, Washington) farther down the list that are not year-round tourism hot spots still score high on the hedonometer.

Also, the study does not examine tweets in any language other than English, which excludes many communities across the country. And what about the difference in context for how people discuss happiness, especially over social media? Cultures can vary widely when it comes to the private vs. public sharing of emotion.

Interesting sidebar: back in April 2011, we shared the Twitter World Happiness Map created by PhD student Alex Davies (which now appears to be down). Davies sampled an unspecified number of tweets from each country on the map, and used the number of happy and sad words to calculate just how happy the tweeting populace of each was. His findings: the number one happiest country on Twitter was Germany, with the most unhappy being Sweden.

What are your thoughts? Is analyzing Twitter data a valuable way to determine generalized state of mind?

(Image via Shutterstock)