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Americans Increasingly Unhappy, Study Shows

happy
Happy face | Image by Flashpop/Getty Images

A study released this week shows Americans are increasingly unhappy, an ongoing trend that resulted in the United States dropping out of the top 20 happiest nations for the first time since the study was conducted in 2012.

The study examined factors relating to happiness among different age groups. While the U.S. ranked 15th in the world in the previous study, the nation tumbled to 23rd for the study done for the 2021-2023 period, lagging behind some surprising countries. For example, Israel ranked fifth, Costa Rica was ranked 12th, and Kuwait came in 13th. Finland took the top spot, with other Nordic nations rounding out the top four.

The research used six key variables to determine well-being: GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and freedom from corruption. Data revealed that happiness declined among people below the age of 30 in many Western nations, including the U.S., while people over the age of 60 reported increasing happiness.

“We knew that a relationship existed between age and happiness, but the biggest surprise is that it is more nuanced than we previously thought, and it is changing,” said Ilana Ron-Levey, managing director at Gallup, as reported by NPR. “In North America, youth happiness has dropped below that of older adults.”

In developed countries, older people, particularly those with strong social safety nets, tend to feel more secure, according to the study. Angst amongst younger generations may be fueled by concerns over climate change, political polarization, and social inequities.

The study found an opposite curve in many Eastern European countries where the older generation experienced the ill effects of things like Communism, civil war, and widespread oppression, which the younger generation does not experience today. The difference makes the younger people more hopeful and gives them a better sense of well-being.

“For the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, happiness has decreased in all age groups, but especially for the young, so much so that the young are now, in 2021-2023, the least happy age group. This is a big change from 2006-2010 when the young were happier than those in the midlife groups,” reads the study.

The study reports a dramatic difference in happiness between men and women, with women in North America, Australia, and New Zealand reporting the most significant difference. Loneliness and a lack of perceived social support are identified as the driving factors for the gender gap. The authors point out the difference is most prevalent among Millenials and less so among Boomers.

The study notes that changes in technology between 2010 and 2020 may account for some of the differences in reported happiness, particularly among Western nations with larger populations. All of the top five ranked nations have populations of less than 15 million, while just two of the nations in the top 20 have populations over 30 million. The spread of technology and social media could be factors in feelings of dissatisfaction among these nations’ young, female populations, which all showed significant gender gaps.

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