In 2005, we wrote a program that scans all blogs every few minutes for sentences that contain the words that contain "I feel" or "I am feeling". Four years and 12 million feelings later, we decided to write a book on what we've found.
There's a bunch. For example, on election day, there was a spiking in the feeling "proud" and "excited". On Valentine's day, people feel "loved" and "lonely" more than on other days. As people get older, they tend to express less anger and disgust. Women express their emotions far more frequently than men, and have a broader vocabulary for expressing their emotions than men do.
But what is even more interesting are the individual stories behind the findings. You can find some of them in the book preview.
Many blogs and social networks have public profiles. For those, our program parses the profile along with the feeling sentence. For those blogs where the blogger specifies their location, since we know the date and time of the blog post and the location of the blogger, we can use publicly available weather databases to find what the weather was that day.
This is a project about people. Blogs are just the medium.
Many people use these terms interchangably. Webster's lists among its definitions for feeling: an emotional state, and for emotion: an emotional state. Go figure. Where experts do make distinctions, they vary, which is not surprising as there is some debate among them on what exactly an emotion is in the first place.
We chose to study feelings in the broadest sense of the term; we use the word to describe sensation ("I feel hot"), perception ("I feel fat"), and even opinions ("I feel that people these days are addicted to the internet"), and any combination of those three.
One of the strongest and most consistent patterns we found in studying this data is that people express happiness more as they get older. Because of the relative of scarcity of bloggers over 60, we weren't able to come to conclusions for people over 60. But right up to age 60, people just keep getting happier. And more grateful.
One thing we've found is that location doesn't have as strong an effect on emotion as, say, age. Culture does have a mediating effect on emotion, but for two big cities in the same country, there are not as large emotional differences. So, given our data, we can't tell you if people in San Francisco are happier than people in New York.
However, we can tell you that Sep is happier than Jonathan.
Women use the words "I feel" in blogs far more often than men do. Women also express a much more varied set of emotions and have a more nuanced vocabulary to express their emotions. This may not come as a surprise to those of you who are married.
When a blog post includes a sentence containing the phrase "I feel" or "I am feeling", and also includes an image, our program automatically overlays the sentence on the image and stores the resulting composition (which we call a "montage") in our database. So every image comes from the same blog post as the sentence that overlays it. This was all determined by our computer program, without human intervention.
No. We Feel Fine finds feelings on blogs, in context, and doesn't let anybody submit feelings. We think that this makes for more honest and unique statements of emotion than if we were to solicit people's feelings directly.
Just send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, letting us know which photo, and we will take your photo down promptly.
For the most common 150 feelings, we chose the colors manually, and we tried to choose colors that reflected the feeling. For example, the angry feelings we chose to be shades of red, the calm feelings shades of blue, and the happy feelings shades of yellow. For the rest of the feelings, we assigned color randomly.
It took about 9 months part time in 2005-2006 to create the website, and about 11 months to write the book. We are faster coders than we are writers!
Sure, take a look at our Methodology page. For basic stats on data collection, see our Summary page.
Sep: I am the creative genius and Jonathan is the pretty face.
Jonathan: Don't believe his pack of lies! I do all the work. Sep gets me coffee.
Yes, we launched an interactive website in 2006 where people can explore emotions in real time, but the book and the website are good for different things. Our primary medium is the web, for good reason. We love the openness, accessibility, interactivity, real-time nature, and reach of the web. But we wrote a book because we wanted to say something long, and attention spans on the web are short.
At the beginning of Chapter 5 in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, Billy Pilgrim finds himself in jail on the planet of Tralfamadore. Billys captors give him some Tralfamadorian books to pass the time, and while Billy can't read Tralfamadorian, he does notice that the books are laid out in brief clumps of text, separated by stars. "Each clump of symbols is a brief, urgent message -- describing a situation, a scene," explained one of his captors. "We Tralfamadorians read them all at once, not one after the other. There isn't any relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time."
We aimed to write this book in the telegraphic, schizophrenic manner of tales from Tralfamadore, where the flying saucers are.
To the Tralfamadorians, the Universe does not look like a lot of bright little dots. Instead they see where each star has been and where it is going, so that the heavens are filles with rarefied, luminous spaghetti. But we're only earthlings, so we used dots.
In the sage words of Larry Walters, an American truck driver who, in 1982, attached 45 helium balloons to a standard lawn chair and then floated from his home in San Pedro, California, to an altitude of 16,000 feet, before eventually shooting a few of the balloons with a pellet gun and drifting into the controlled federal air space of Long Beach airport, where he crashed into a power line that caused a 20-minute blackout, "Well, a man can't just sit around."
Passages from the answers to questions 15 and 16 are taken directly from Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, which is an awesome book.