June 22, 2020

Charted: The dramatic decline in US happiness amid Covid-19

Daily Briefing

    A recent poll from NORC at the University of Chicago found that just 14% of Americans say they're very happy—the lowest percentage recorded since the poll started collecting data in 1972—and 50% of Americans say they feel isolated sometimes or often.

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    Americans are at their unhappiest point in almost 50 years

    NORC conducted the poll of 2,279 U.S. adults between May 21 and May 29, and found that the percentage of respondents who said they were "very happy" dropped to 14% this year, down from 31% in 2018 and marking the lowest percentage the poll has ever recorded. 

    The poll also found that many respondents reported feeling isolated, with 50% saying they felt isolated either sometimes, often, or very often, compared with 23% who reported feeling isolated in 2018. Similarly, 45% of respondents this year said they lacked companionship, compared with 27% in 2018.

    Respondents also were more likely to report feeling anxious, depressed, or irritable this year when compared with 2018. According to the poll, more than half of respondents said they sometimes or often had been bothered by emotional problems such as anxiety, depression, or irritability within the week leading up to the survey, compared with 39% in 2018.

    Optimism regarding Americans' standards of living also hit a new low this year, the poll found. According to the poll, 42% of respondents said they believe that, when their children reach the respondent's current age, the children will have a much better or somewhat better standard of living than they do now, which is the lowest percentage recorded since the poll first started asking the question in 1994.

    However, respondents' satisfaction with their personal finances held fairly steady in 2020, the poll found, with about 80% of respondents saying they were mostly or completely satisfied with their current financial situations.

    Experts say findings highlight human resilience 

    Louise Hawkley, a senior research scientist at NORC, said it was surprising that loneliness wasn't even more prevalent now than the poll indicates, given the need for physical isolation amid America's new coronavirus epidemic.

    "It isn't as high as it could be," Hawkley said. "People have figured out a way to connect with others. It's not satisfactory, but people are managing to some extent."

    Sonja, a psychology professor at the University of California-Riverside, said, "Human beings are remarkably resilient," adding, "There's lots and lots of evidence that we adapt to everything. We move forward."

    Lyubomirsky said she's been working on studies examining people's happiness since the coronavirus epidemic started, and has found that some people are slightly happier in 2020 than they were last year (Lush, Associated Press, 6/16; Coleman, The Hill, 6/16).

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