Report Indicates American Unhappiness Highest in Decades

The purpose of this article is to share the results from the World Happiness Report 2019. I do not intend to comment or draw conclusions.

The World Happiness Reports 2019 (https://s3.amazonaws.com/happiness-report/2019/WHR19.pdf) asks questions about why Americans respond that they are more unhappy today than at any time in several decades. The report indicates that Americans now rank 19th on the happiness scale compared to 156 other countries.

An article in the report titled “The Sad State of Happiness in the United States and the Role of Digital Media” by Jean M. Twenge states “The years since 2010 have not been good ones for happiness and well-being among Americans. Even as the United States economy improved after the end of the Great Recession in 2009, happiness among adults did not rebound to the higher levels of the 1990s, continuing a slow decline ongoing since at least 2000 in the General Social Survey (Twenge et al., 2016; also see Figure 5.1). Happiness was measured with the question, “Taken all together, how would you say things are these days—would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?” with the response choices coded 1, 2, or 3.

Happiness and life satisfaction among United States adolescents, which increased between 1991 and 2011, suddenly declined after 2012 (Twenge et al., 2018a; see Figure 5.2). Thus, by 2016-17, both adults and adolescents were reporting significantly less happiness than they had in the 2000s.

In addition, numerous indicators of low psychological well-being such as depression, suicidal ideation, and self-harm increased sharply among adolescents since 2010, particularly among girls and young women (Mercado et al., 2017; Mojtabai et al., 2016; Plemmons et al., 2018; Twenge et al., 2018b, 2019a). Depression and self-harm also increased over this time period among children and adolescents in the UK (Morgan et al., 2017; NHS, 2018; Patalay & Gage, 2019). Thus, those in iGen (born after 1995) are markedly lower in psychological well-being than Millennials (born 1980-1994) were at the same age (Twenge, 2017).

This decline in happiness and mental health seems paradoxical. By most accounts, Americans should be happier now than ever. The violent crime rate is low, as is the unemployment rate. Income per capita has steadily grown over the last few decades. This is the Easterlin paradox: As the standard of living improves, so should happiness – but it has not.

Several credible explanations have been posited to explain the decline in happiness among adult Americans, including declines in social capital and social support (Sachs, 2017) and increases in obesity and substance abuse (Sachs, 2018). In this article, I suggest another, complementary explanation: that Americans are less happy due to fundamental shifts in how they spend their leisure time. I focus primarily on adolescents, since more thorough analyses on trends in time use have been performed for this age group. However, future analyses may find that similar trends also appear among adults.” (https://s3.amazonaws.com/happiness-report/2019/WHR19.pdf page 88)

I found this related data very interesting “Other activities that typically do not involve screens have also declined: Adolescents spent less time attending religious services (Twenge et al., 2015), less time reading books and magazines (Twenge et al., 2019b), and (perhaps most crucially) less time sleeping (Twenge et al., 2017). These declines are not due to time spent on homework, which has declined or stayed the same, or time spent on extracurricular activities, which has stayed about the same (Twenge & Park, 2019). The only activity adolescents have spent signifiantly more time on during the last decade is digital media. As Figure 5.4 demonstrates, the amount of time adolescents spend online increased at the same time that sleep and in-person social interaction declined, in tandem with a decline in general happiness.” (ibid page 92)

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