Lifestyle

The joy conundrum: why has the US hit peak happiness when the rest of the world is so sad?

Name: Happiness.

Age: You know, pretty much for ever. But around 2,500 years, if we’re talking about the psychological and philosophical pursuit of happiness, which began with Confucius, Buddha, Aristotle and Socrates in China, India and Greece, respectively. Happiness, Todd Solondz’s black comedy movie, came out in 1998. Mr Happy is 50 this year.

There’s not a lot happiness around right now, though, is there? You’d be surprised.

Go on, surprise me. In the US, Gallup’s life evaluation index is at a record high.

And what exactly is Gallup’s life evaluation index? A web survey, the most recent results of which, collected from 4,820 American adults in June, show that 59.2% consider their lives to be “thriving”.

As opposed to? “Struggling” or “suffering”.

And 59.2% is high? Highest for 13 years.

What have they got to be so happy about? The survey asks people to rate their levels of life satisfaction and predicted life satisfaction, significant daily enjoyment, as well as stress and worry, without going into details of the reasons they feel the way they do. But it’s not hard to figure it out.

Seriously, though, Covid! Why are they happy? And didn’t I see that worry and sadness worldwide were up last year? Yes, that’s true. According to Gallup’s negative experience index, which tracks these emotions in 100 countries, the world was feeling its worst in 15 years. Iraq and Lebanon, with political instability, and Peru with its high Covid rates, scored highest. And in the US, on the life evaluation index, the “thriving” percentage was nearly 10 percentage points down, at 46.4%.

And that’s low? Last time it was way down there was during the Great Recession of 2008-09. Then there was another trough in December.

And we think that might have something to do with the pandemic and resulting economic downturn? In April 2020 there were more than 30m claims for unemployment benefit in the US, and in December daily Covid deaths in the country exceeded 2,500. So yeah.

The pandemic hasn’t gone away. Why so happy now? If we plot significant events on the happiness graph, the turning point was when Biden won …

Naturally. And it’s been pretty much going up from there, because of the vaccination programme and the economy reopening, renewed social interaction and so on. But a word of warning: the Delta variant, or other mutations, have the potential to make the graph go down again.

We’re talking about light, and tunnels, then. And is this optimism shared in the UK? The 2021 World Happiness report, in partnership with Gallup, found Brits’ happiness was down 18% from last year to a record low in the first part of 2021.

No, then. Yes … no. True to form, Brits remain miserable.

Do say: “Never better thanks. And you have a great day, too.”

Don’t say: “Cheer up, it might never happen.”