Happiness, According to Wikipedia

Nikhil Sonnad, a reporter for the online site Quartz, wrote a fascinating article tracking the evolving definition of the word “happiness” at Wikipedia.

Part of what I found fascinating was not only the changing definition of happiness, but also a sort of behind the scenes look at how the editing process works at Wikipedia.

The earliest Wikipedia page on “happiness,” from January 2003, read, in full:

Happiness is the state of being happy.

Not very insightful, to say the least.

But 6,000 edits later, by over 3,000 users, and we’ve arrived at the definition that has been at the start of the Wikipedia page on happiness for over a year:

Happiness is a mental or emotional state of well-being defined by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. Happy mental states may also reflect judgements by a person about their overall well-being. A variety of biological, psychological, economic, religious and philosophical approaches have striven to define happiness and identify its sources. Various research groups, including positive psychology and happiness economics are employing the scientific method to research questions about what “happiness” is, and how it might be attained.

That’s a big improvement, to say the least.

Sonnad has downloaded, read, and analyzed all of the Wikipedia revisions on “happiness” over the course of 14 years. He notes that the journey was not pretty—the happiness page has endured a continuous barrage of hate speech, vandalism, assertions that happiness is not real, or more sorrowfully, that it is unknown to the person making the edit.

I was not aware that you could actually review the entire history of a Wikipedia page, and see how it has changed over the years.

My curiosity was piqued enough to want to explore this process further.

In total, the English Wikipedia has 5,387,263 articles, which have been edited 885,334,937 times,  and averages 800 new articles per day.

To mark the occasion of its 15th anniversary in January 2016, the site published a list of the 15 most heavily edited English-language articles.

  1. George W. Bush (45,862)
  2. List of WWE personnel (42,863)
  3. United States (35,742)
  4. Wikipedia (33,958)
  5. Michael Jackson (28,152)
  6. Jesus (28,084)
  7. Catholic Church (26,421)
  8. List of programs broadcast by ABS-CBN (25,188)
  9. Barack Obama (24,708)
  10. Adolf Hitler (24,612)
  11. Britney Spears (23,802)
  12. World War II (23,739)
  13. Deaths in 2013 (22,529)
  14. The Beatles (22,399)
  15. India (22,271)

(I find it somewhat ironic, and telling, that the second most edited page, the World Wrestling Entertainment page is, in a roundabout sort of way, all about fake news. I guess people really like that type of entertainment. It also suggests that wrestling fans spend a lot of time on Wikipedia.)

If you would like to see and hear a visual and audio illustration of live editing activity on Wikipedia, click here; it’s pretty cool. I’ve had it playing in the background while writing this blog, and the sounds are actually quite soothing.

Anyway, I think we can all agree that Wikipedia is an amazing resource, that is only getting better over time, as shown by the changing definition of happiness over the past 14 years.

And getting back to the topic of happiness. If I were to add my own two cents to the definition of happiness, it would be something like this:

a warm summer day at the beach, surrounded by family and friends, drinking a green smoothie, with my exercise and blog already done for the day

Just thinking about it makes me happy…

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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