WHY NOT NO. 1? What happens when you put a bunch of math geeks in a room with rows of computers? They come up with studies, the latest “proving” that Santa Barbara is only the 38th “happy” city in the U.S.
They claim that if you want happiness, go to Napa. It’s No. 1 on their scorecard. It’s got all the wine you can drink. Other than that, I’m not sure why the high marks. You want the saddest place in the U.S, go to Beaumont, Texas. It’s dead last.
Did these geeks actually talk to real living people? No. Folks, I’m sorry to tell you that we have arrived at a time when communication is no longer measured by speech or even the written word but by tweets. They broke down Twitter mini-sentences emanating from 373 urban areas into individual words.
Millions of them. Places that tweeted more “good” words, like “rainbow” and “love,” got higher marks on the “hedonometer” (their term) than places tweeting lots of bad words, like “cancer,” “fatal,” and “terrorist.”
Other downer words: “No.” “Never.” “Wrong.” “Don’t.” And a plethora of curse words dooms your town or state to statistical gloom. “People curse more as the day goes on,” observed Christopher Danforth, a coauthor of the study announced by the University of Vermont.
“In the South, more people are cursing,” he said. “A tapestry of negative words,” according to the study. Oddly, in all this frenzy of cuss-counting, the F-word doesn’t matter. It’s considered neutral because, according to the study, it’s used about as often in expressing something positive, as in “F— me, I got an A on my English paper,” as in something negative, “F— you and the horse you rode in on.”
Southern states tend to be poorer, the study noted, and cursing your luck counts against you. And, of course, Texas has to contend with Governor Rick Perry, always a downer on the happiness meter. States with more natural disasters also bring out the negative tweets, as you might expect.
If a boring town like Napa can get top rating through happy talk (everyone must be jabbering tweet-wise about wine), how come a nice place like Santa Barbara gets consigned to the moody blues?
Spanish words were nixed out of the running, so about a third of our population was deep-sixed, tweet-wise. “Beach” is one of the happy words that count, so how come we’re not No. 1?
A highly detailed, color-coded (red for happy spot-lets, blue for sadness) shows that high-happiness reddish states were a fairly solid block west of Texas, whereas Rust Belt states to the east pretty much have the blues. It also showed a pretty solid line of happy red dots all along downtown State Street. No doubt people are happy when they’re shopping, tweeting the heck out of bargains.
So what’s up with Beaumont, which these guys say is the saddest place in the whole continental U.S.? Well, for one thing, it’s an industrial town on the poor Gulf Coast — and it’s in Texas.
Just how valid the study is can be debated. The authors point out that only 15 percent or so of online adults regularly use Twitter (I don’t) and that “18-29 year olds and minorities” tend to be more highly represented in such studies.
In some ways, the results, while reducing happiness to numbers, are not terribly surprising. Happiest state: Hawai‘i. Manhattan is a happier place than Harlem. Wealthy people and places are happier.
Upshot: Instead of moving to Napa, drink our own wine, and get richer if you can.
CABARET: If you gathered a bunch of talented kids from area high schools and put them under the direction of Otto Layman, with choreography by Christina McCarthy, musical direction by John Douglas, costuming by Lise Lange, light design by Spencer Michaels, and set design by David Guy, voilà! You’d have a bang-up production of the musical Cabaret, a bittersweet excursion of Berlin in the early 1930s. The show featured tarts from the seedy Kit Kat Klub, love and pain, and the whole damn thing, all the decadence the Santa Barbara High auditorium could hold and, increasingly, the dark shadow of Hitlerism. It was an outstanding, moving production, and my only regret is to inform you that the special summer musical was only staged last weekend. Xeni Tziouvaras was sensational as Sally Bowles.