Dr. [Peter Sheridan] Dodds and Dr. [Christopher] Danforth downloaded the lyrics to 232,574 songs by 20,025 artists released between 1960 and 2007, from the Web site hotlyrics.net. From another site, wefeelfine.org, they pulled more than nine million sentences that used some form of the verb feel — as in "I feel relieved" — from 2.3 million blogs from 2005 to 2009. They also analyzed State of the Union speeches going back to George Washington's. They then rated the psychological charge, or "valence," of a significant subset of the words on a 10-point scale: from triumphant (8.82) and love (8.72) down to disgusted (2.45) and suicide (1.25).
Some of the findings were expected. Sept. 11, 2001, was rock bottom, for instance. Others were less so: the day that Michael Jackson died also lowered people's mood significantly. The high-water mark was the day President Obama was elected, when the word "proud" was predominant. [...]
The researchers also analyzed the emotional content of blogs by the age of the blogger, and they found a curious pattern. Teenagers, true to form, rated the lowest, with an abundance of "sick," "hate" and "stupid."
With advancing age the tone gradually softened, rising to a high plateau in apparent emotional well-being through the 50s and 60s, then dropping after age 70 — when the word "sick" began to reappear. [...]
As for popular music, the University of Vermont researchers found that within each genre, the emotional charge of lyrics remained stable between 1960 and 2007. But the overall trend was downward, as metal came of age in the 1970s, punk in the 1980s, and later hip-hop, each exploring darker themes more explicitly than their predecessors in the 1960s.
The low point, lyric-wise, was around 2003.
I continue to maintain that the low point in our culture remains the release (and popularity!) of the nightmarish Kevin Costner baseball pic Field of Dreams, but maybe that calls for a different research project.