Published in


How are cities across the world experiencing joy in COVID19 times?

happy people

Over the last few days, parts of the world will be going back into lockdown mode. Once again, the world whips out our already frustratingly overused phrase: we’re living in unprecedented times. A lot has already been written about these unprecedented times so, just for a few minutes, let’s shift our focus to the first half of that statement:

We are Living. People are still creating art, getting married, starting podcasts, protesting injustice and even starting to become curious about the people around them.

Life, like The Dude, abides and that is an objectively wonderful fact, regardless of the grim dystopia determined to crush all joy. Today, we investigate how people living in a pandemic are enjoying life anyway.

How we conducted our research:

Our research team at Quilt.AI looked at multiple data sources ranging from social media, search, and news, to videos, blogs, and forums to understand the dimensions of Positivity that emerged.

All geo-tagged conversations, videos, photos were extracted by Quilt.AI and filtered to remove the entries making references to the pandemic.

The results were then passed through three of our Machine Learning models forming our Culture AI tool.

The first labeled images depending on the aesthetic. For example, a photo of a lady doing jumping jacks is likely to be labeled “vitality.” The second understands cultural ideas of positivity beyond keywords like “happy” or “sad”. This was used on tweets.

The third model looked at headlines to understand the deeper sentiment being talked about. So, a story about a trans man saving a puppy might be labeled “hopeful.”

After this round of labeling and identifying, we generated a positivity score based on what percentage of content analyzed fit these models. The average of all the scores is 26%, suggesting that most of the conversations happening are focused on the pandemic, news, and other stressors.

To sum it up, geo-tagged data extracted from the internet was gathered, labeled, and organized to give us an insight into how different cities have been dealing with the pandemic.

Visualising big data on a cultural plot

How do we plot Happiness in a graph?

We set out to build a “chart of joy” that could visually represent our findings from the data. After much brainstorming, we arrived at two key clines:

  • The first was the axis of connection. This axis documents the full spectrum of how individuals experience joy, whether that’s more relational or individual. On one end of the spectrum, we have those who find joy in forming bonds with the larger community. On the other end, we have those who find joy in self-expression.
  • The second is the axis of meaning, which documents the “eventfulness” of joy, if it is more a big occasion that brings joy or an everyday act that triggers it. We labelled the polar ends of this axis “Grounding” and “Celebration”, where on one end of the spectrum we see those who find joy in shared eventful experiences (Celebration) to those who find joy in the everyday and their surroundings (Grounding).

Combining these two axes into a plot of sorts, we arrive at something that looks like this:

axes of joy

Plotting the countries onto the graph, we arrive at something that looks like this:

Right from the get-go, comparing a city’s location in the quadrant to recent happenings starts presenting some fascinating insights.

Insights from Joy Quadrant 1: Grounding X Self-expression

In this quadrant, analysis of our data showed a focus on community-building through leisure in the form of activities such as free online cooking classes, state parks remaining open for alternative recreation, and balcony fitness workouts in cities like Wuhan, New Delhi, Shanghai, London, and Jakarta.

In London, the promotions company Green House Group set up Virtual Pints, a fundraising initiative that aimed to raise GBP 5,000 to support small pubs and music venues at financial risk.

Popular British medical dramas Casualty and Holby City donated protective equipment and medical items from their sets to hospitals in the National Health Service (NHS). A London-based couple even postponed their wedding and donated their wedding favours to healthcare staff in an effort to “lift the spirits.”

Similarly, New Delhi saw the country’s biggest Bollywood celebrities sharing a series of messages asking everyone to stay at home in accordance with the lockdown. On a local level, The Wellness Club Gym and Spa shared videos of indoor workouts, helping their audience stay fit at home.

Insights from Joy Quadrant 2: Grounding X Human Connection

The grounding x human connection quadrant is distinguished by posts that signify a strong yearning for human connection in one’s everyday life, with an emphasis on following social distancing guidelines. Both physical and emotional distances are overcome by expressions of encouragement, affection, and good deeds.

New York City started what at one point seemed like a global trend of sharing sourdough starters with each other. People connected with virtual strangers over recipes, creations, tips and gave new meaning to the term “breaking bread with a friend.” College students amassed a thousand volunteers in 72 hours to deliver groceries and medicine to vulnerable New Yorkers. Broadway went online and live-streamed music parties replaced clubs to entertain the city that never sleeps.

Parisians weren’t far behind, showcasing their own cultural heritage online with virtual visits to the Louvre while Disneyland Paris donated 15 metric tons of surplus food supplies to communities affected by the pandemic.

An army of volunteers stepped forward to take charge of helping those in need; even beauty brands like L’Occitane lent a hand by… donating over 10,000 hand creams to NHS workers. You gotta moisturise, folks! They also reassigned some of their production lines to manufacture 70,000 litres of hand sanitiser in their home country.

Insights from Joy Quadrant 3: Celebration X Self Expression

The celebration x self expression quadrant is the one where all this lockdown creativity is coming from.

These cities have been vocal in their self-expression and optimistic in their outlooks. In places like Beijing and Milan, individuals are sharing indoor fitness exercises and playing music from their balconies.

Citizens of Beijing gathered to provide a warm welcome to a medical team of sixty doctors and nurses from Wuhan. Starting in February, a local church Beijing’s Chongwenmen Church has served its congregation through a pastoral helpline for intercessory prayers and pouring out of hearts.

Meanwhile, in Milan, Italians read and shared the “verses of timeless charm” by Dante — the symbol of Italian culture and language — as a way to unite the country.

Dancers from the Ballet Company of the Teatro alla Scala posted a mash-up of videos of them incorporating their exercises and routine in daily activities in hopes of getting others moving as well, while taxi drivers rallied to help the elderly by offering their services free of charge to seniors who needed to leave their homes out of necessity.

Insights from Joy Quadrant 4: Celebration x Human Connection

Lastly, the celebration x human connection quadrant celebrated being alive regardless of the crisis. In cities such as Singapore, Seattle, and Birmingham, we see celebration, friendship, and unity through online and social media activity.

In the city of Seattle, veterinary hospitals redeployed breathing machines, masks, gowns and other vital equipment and supplies to help doctors fight the spread of COVID-19 among humans.

Seattle-based Facebook group Crafters Against COVID-19 has started virtual sewing circles to create masks and protective gowns, forming an ad hoc army of volunteers responding to the medical community’s calls for help. The Betancourt Macias Family Scholarship Foundation raised USD 102,556 to help undocumented individuals who couldn’t access unemployment benefits.

In Singapore, people have come up with an innovative way to save local small businesses: gift cards. They work in a similar fashion as debt bonds one can buy from a country. People are buying them now, to provide local entrepreneurs temporary cash flow and they will redeem them later, when circumstances are better. Concurrently, donations on fundraising website Giving.sg saw a sharp spike up compared to a year ago.

In the domain of religion, public mass was suspended and Catholics moved their religious obligations online without skipping a beat. Universities supported their students by offering a pass/fail option for all modules in the current semester.

All in all, there is joy to be found out there.

There is joy to be found in reading books with strangers online or knitting masks for nurses you don’t know or sharing your resources with those in need; there is joy to be found in each other.

And if enough of us can joyously help enough, we might have a shot at making it through these unprecedented times together.

Smile! Wherever you are, the Quilt.AI team sends well wishes for the months ahead. For some chat about what we do, reach out to us at anurag.banerjee@quilt.ai :)



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store

We are a culturally rooted, AI powered insights firm that converts millions of data signals into human understanding. Visit us: https://quilt.ai