- Glenn D. Surowiec
On My Desk: Noteworthy News
A new survey finds that Americans are unhappier than they’ve been in decades, or possibly ever. Why?
A study on American happiness came across my desk recently, and its findings took me by surprise. Specifically, the General Social Survey showed that more Americans report feeling “not too happy” since 1972, and for the first time since then the “not too happy” line has overtaken the “happy” line. In other words, more people say they are unhappy than the reverse.
But why? I've always been amazed at how wealthy our society has become, along with a commensurately improved quality of living. A hundred years ago, a scratch could turn into a mortal wound. Why are people so much unhappier when we're living longer and healthier, and we're wealthier, than at any time in our history? Even the bottom 10% of Americans by income are better off than the bottom 10% of most every other advanced nation, according to The Economist and the Organisation [sic] for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Obviously, some of this downturn in sentiment is being driven by COVID-19 and geopolitical events, but I do wonder if there are deeper undercurrents.
That said, it’s worth remembering that we can sometimes become overly fixated on immediate concerns – understandably so, given the urgency of dealing with issues like COVID-19 surges or facing Russia’s horrific invasion of Ukraine. But if that focus begins to re-shape our view of the world around us, we can forget, overlook, or minimize things that we shouldn’t.
None of this means that we ignore what's going on in the larger world, nor that we don't continue to work to make the world a better place, but I wonder if the lines crossing on this study is a reminder to step back and look at the big picture, so we don’t lose sight of where we really are versus where we fear we are.
For what it’s worth, I think there is an investment tie in here too, because similar psychological mechanisms are at play. People get so caught up in the moment, with worldview and state of mind and emotion disproportionately influenced by the latest headlines. That doesn’t just affect happiness and mood, it also affects our decisions. More than ever, this is a time when investors should be cautious about engaging in emotion-driven decision-making.