Along with creative developments in gaming, Facebook seems like a natural for measuring flourishing. Facebook has the audience, the capacity, and is building apps (applications) that speak to the development and measurement of well-being worldwide. Can well-being be monitored on a daily basis all over the world? Here’s a beginning: Mark Slee counted the occurrences of the term laid off in Facebook every day and graphed the count against the number of layoffs worldwide. Sure enough, they moved in lockstep. Not thrilling, you might think.
But now consider the five elements of well-being: positive emotion, engagement, meaning, positive relationships, and accomplishment. Each element has a lexicon; an extensive vocabulary. For example, the English language has only about eighty words to describe positive emotion. (You can determine this by going to a thesaurus for a word such as joy and then looking up all the related words, and then counting the synonyms of all those related words, eventually circling back to the core of eighty.) The hypermassive Facebook database could be accessed daily for a count of positive emotion words—words that signal meaning, positive relationships, and accomplishment—as a first approximation to well-being in a given nation or as a function of some major event.
It is not only measuring well-being that Facebook and its cousins can do, but increasing well-being as well. “We have a new application: goals.com,” Mark continued. “In this app, people record their goals and their progress toward their goals.”
I commented on Facebook’s possibilities for instilling well-being: “As it stands now, Facebook may actually be building four of the elements of well-being: positive emotion, engagement (sharing all those photos of good events), positive relationships (the heart of what ‘friends’ are all about), and now accomplishment. All to the good. The fifth element of well-being, however, needs work, and in the narcissistic environment of Facebook, this work is urgent, and that is belonging to and serving something that you believe is bigger than the self—the element of meaning. Facebook could indeed help to build meaning in the lives of the five hundred million users. Think about it, Mark.