The Garden of Joy: Visualizing Collective Happiness by Qingyue Li

Happiness is a deeply personal experience, yet everyone pursues happiness. Growing up in Beijing and living across the globe sparked my curiosity about the ways different cultures perceive and live out happiness.

Initially, I utilized the happiness dataset from the World Happiness Report, an annual survey on happiness, which is widely regarded as the most authoritative source of happiness. (World Happiness Report, 2022). However, the dataset is confined to the country level. I wanted to understand how happiness looks at a sub-national level. This inspired me to think creatively and craft my own dataset, allowing for a deeper exploration of regional nuances within a country. I selected the United States, my home for the last 12 years, for further exploration. I use the garden as a metaphor for this visualization, as I associate the outdoors and nature with happiness. It is a motif that brings joy to me.
The theoretical framework for this project is from the P-E-R-M-A model, developed by Martin Seligman, which represents five core elements for happiness and well-being: Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishments. P-E-R-M-A is the foundation for positive psychology, which focuses on how what makes life worth living as well as the study of how to define and quantify well-being.

To understand this at a local level, I combined Google Trends data with 134 survey responses, crafting a 'zoomed-in' dataset. Using the P-E-R-M-A model as a starting point, I conducted a survey asking participants about new activities they undertook in the past 12 months, and thus what they may have googled. Because there is a lack of good sub-national data, leveraging Google Trends data at a state level allowed me to understand the differences in happiness across the United States. This model did rely on people engaging in new activities, as I assumed that they would not be googling for already established routines.

This creative approach allowed me to take the national data from the Happiness Survey and explore it with localized insights. From the survey results, I determined the top three new happiness-associated activities for each of the five P-E-R-M-A categories. Then, I paired these top 3 activities with Google Trends data (from 08/02/2022 to 08/02/2023). Leveraging this data let me see the top 15 states for each activity – meaning that these were states where residents had been the most active in searching for ways to improve their happiness in the past 12 months.

In the "Local Focus: The US as a Happiness Microsocm" section, I display these results using a garden motif. The size of the garden reflects the relative search frequency of a specific term in Google searches, with larger gardens indicating higher search popularity. This visualization illustrates the varying levels of interest among residents in each state in undertaking new happiness activities. A fully flowered garden represents a '100' index value in the aggregated Google Trends data, signifying the peak popularity of that search term during the past 12 months. A value of 100, according to Google, means that it had “maximum search interest for the time and location selected,” indicating a high level of popularity. A 90% flower-covered garden suggests a high-interest level in that state for undergoing new activities, but there is less interest than in the state with a value of 100.

In the "Top Three States Searching to Improve Happiness" section, I explore regional variations in happiness across P-E-R-M-A categories. I calculated the sum of each state's indexed values, with a maximum possible score of 300. Higher values indicate greater interest in specific happiness-improving categories. I identified and mapped the three states with the highest scores. While examining the US regions, I discovered that the Southern United States showed more searches for happiness-related activities, whereas the Midwest had the fewest searches.

In the “Cultivate your Garden of Joy” section, one of the main takeaways from this poster is that I want to inspire people to cultivate their own Garden of Joy. I want people to live a more fulfilled life. Happiness, like a garden, flourishes with care and intention. What seeds of joy have you planted in your life over the past year? Research shows that if you make a note of the joys in your life, you are more likely to experience happiness. I hope this poster inspires you to continue nurturing your own P-E-R-M-A elements. Life is an abundant source of small, joyful moments.