Why Are We Unhappy?

Is life better now than it was 50 years ago?


The answer may depend on the economy according to a study done by the Pew Research Centre. The study done in 2017 found that people worldwide are divided on whether life is better now than it was 50 years ago.

Key Points from the study


  • Pew research centre put the question to nearly 43,000 people in 38 countries.The results of the survey are based on a face to face interview conducted under the directions of D3 systems.


  • 88% of people from Vietnam, 69% of Indians and 68% of South Koreans say life is better today than 50 years ago. These are countries that have seen a dramatic shift in economic transformation since the late 60s.


  • 41% of American say life is worse while only 37% of people say life is better now that it was 50 years ago.


  • Views of the current state of the economy were a reliable indicator of whether life for the respondents is better than it was 50 years ago.


  • Latin American countries like Venezuela and Mexico had a generally negative assessment of progress over the last 50 years.


  • In more than half the countries polled, people with more education say that, for people like them, life is better than it was a half-century ago.


The results are somewhat surprising in that 41% of Americans think life is worse now that it was 50 years ago. It would be interesting to know the racial demographics and the political leanings of the people that were surveyed in America. Other studies have indicated that political leanings tend to affect your outlook on life. For example, a study done by the American Enterprise Institute, found that conservatives tend to be happier with the state of the economy than liberals.


Another study done by the New York University found that Conservative (right wingers) were happier than liberals (or left-wingers) on average. The study found that the rationalisation of inequality is a core component of conservative ideology that helps to explain why conservatives are on average happier than liberals. The study also found that rising inequality takes a higher toll on the psychology of liberals. Liberals also tend to view disparities in a negative light than conservatives. The researchers in the study found that countries that were more upbeat about the economy where more likely to say life for them is better than those from poor countries.

This conclusion leads us to ask one simple question. Why is it that 47% of Americans studied view life now worse than it was 50 years ago? Especially when you consider how well the economy is doing. According to CNN money report, the US economy grew 2.3% in 2017, Americans, were shopping more and businesses were investing a lot more.  In the same year; Americans saw a reduction in unemployment, as more and more people went back to work.

In my opinion, studying happiness is hard; this is because happiness is dependant on a lot of variables.  Studying happiness requires researchers to follow a large number of people over a period; this is very expensive and time-consuming. How a person feels is dependant on many factors, for example, health, social, economic status, marital status and the environment a person finds them in.  For example, raising children with two parents tends to produce well adjusted happier children, than children from single parents homes. It is, however, hard to work out the impact, the type of family, the cultural and societal norms have on the wellbeing of children. This is because of family values and societal norms are different.



Keeping that in mind, here are some of the reasons Americans may be unhappy. I chose America because the data provided in the study was more concrete among Americans.

Firstly, over medication, America is the most over-medicated country in the world followed by Iceland according to Business Insider. The CDC reckons the rise could be due to the massive marketing of drugs by pharmaceutical companies. Use of antidepressants tends to be an accurate indicator of the levels of depression in a country. In 2016, an estimated 16.7 million Americans above the age of eighteen had at least one major depressive episode.  The prevalence of depression was higher in adult females 8.7% than males 4.8%. Figures also show that depression was higher in individuals between the ages of 18 and 25.

Secondly, wealth inequality. According to CNN Money, the top one per cent of the American population control 36% of the wealth. The bottom 90% of the American population only holds 22% of the wealth. The levels of inequality in a country are associated with high levels of crime and as the study points out negative emotions. No one disputes that inequality is a problem and that you cannot have that amount of wealth concentrated in a small number of people.

The question then is how you reduce inequality, without turning the country into a communist or socialist state.  Redistribution of wealth only works in countries with a small population like Iceland and Finland. But for countries like America, India and China, wealth equality would be hard to achieve because of the population density. And even then there is no guarantee that redistribution would deal with the problem of inequality. Moreover, no one has been able to come up with a robust solution to reduce the wealth disparity other than taxing the wealthy and giving the money to the poor.

Thirdly, people are more stressed than they were 50 years ago. According to the American psychology association, 63 percent of Americans are stressed about the future of the nation. Interesting in the study was that the top stressors were not job security, but instead, they found that people were stressed about the general future of the country. This trend was evident across all political lines. 73% of Democrats in 2017 were more stressed about the country future than Republican 56%. And among independents, 56% were stressed about the future.

Furthermore, the current political divide has the majority of Americans very stressed as well; the election of Donald Trump is what amplified the political divide. 50 years ago, even though Republicans and Democrats disagreed on a lot of issues, at least they talked. We have a media that is more concentrated on Stormy Daniels and what Kanye West said than reporting on the News that matters. We have politicians that are so afraid of political ramifications, that they do not serve the people that elected them into office.

Finally, when you watch the news, you would be forgiven to think the world is coming to an end. But a closer analysis of the data reviews that things are not as bad as they seem in western countries. For example, people are more tolerant than they were 100 years ago, the average life expectancy is higher than 100 years ago, simple diseases like syphilis were a death sentence and professions like medicine, nursing and law did not have regulatory governing bodies that dealt with the misconduct of professionals so there was no way of holding professionals accountable for their negligence.


Why Are we Unhappy?


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