Why Thanksgiving is the Happiest Day of the Year (and Other Facts)

Insights From Facebook Data Science and The American Farm Bureau

A mother and daughter hug and beam with happiness while preparing Thanksgiving dinner together.
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Thanksgiving is the happiest day in the U.S., according to a report from Facebook's Data Science team. This result came out of a 2009 study the social science giant conducted on happiness as measured by the word content of posts by its users. To conduct the study researchers counted positive versus negative words in status updates, and created a scale to measure which days are happier than others.

Thanksgiving far outranked any other day of the year in terms of what they call Gross National Happiness. In fact, it outranked the average day by about 25 points on the scale and outranked Christmas—the second happiest day—by about 11 points.

But does this really mean that Thanksgiving is the happiest day? Not necessarily. Given that what we share on social media is in large part influenced by social expectations and crowd behavior, it's possible that Thanksgiving is actually the day when the greatest number of us "perform" happiness. Either way, it's a nice thing, isn't it?

Women Are Most Thankful for Friends, Family, and Health

What are people most thankful for? Facebook has the answer for that too. During 2014 a gratitude "challenge" made the rounds on the site. Users who participated posted daily for upwards of a week about things that they were grateful for, and asked others to do the same.

Facebook's Data Science team took the widespread popularity of the challenge as an opportunity to study what it is that people are most grateful for. They found some interesting results.

Firstly, and importantly, they found that 90 percent of those who participated in the challenge were women, so what the study really tells us is what women are grateful for.

So what is that? In order of rank: friends, family, health, family and friends, a job, a husband, children, housing, life, and music. Analysis of how users participated in the challenge also revealed that while people are thankful for friends across age groups, older users are most likely to list spouse and family as more important (based on order of rank) than friends.

It is perhaps unsurprising that people are most grateful for those closest to them, and for feeling healthy and well. Where the data get really interesting are at the state level. People in California and Virginia are more grateful for YouTube than people in other states, while Google is prized by those in Kansas, Netflix in New Hampshire, and Pinterest in Vermont. The challenge revealed that gratitude for god and religion are common in the southern states, and in Idaho and Utah. Finally, gratitude for seasonal weather patterns and phenomena like rainbows were common across many states too.

Thanksgiving is Less Expensive Today than Two Decades Ago (Unless You're a Gourmet Foodie)

Every year since 1985 the American Farm Bureau Federation has calculated the cost of a Thanksgiving meal for ten people. While nominally that number has risen from $28.74 in 1986 to $50.11 in 2015, the real cost of a Thanksgiving meal has actually declined since 1986 when one accounts for inflation.

It's actually about 20 percent cheaper today than it was nearly two decades ago. Why is this the case? It's likely due to a combination of government subsidies to large-scale farming operations, and the low cost of produce imported from Central and South America, thanks to NAFTA, CAFTA, and other free trade agreements.

That is, of course, unless you're a hipster or a gourmet foodie. In those cases, as Time estimated in 2014, the added value of an organic, free-range, or heritage turkey, and organic, locally-sourced vegetables and dairy will run upwards of $170 to $250 for that party of ten.