Which hasn’t stopped people from trying, anyway. And it shouldn’t keep us from learning lessons from what they find, especially during this time of pandemic and protest.
Drill down in that survey and you’ll find that Utah ranked first in the nation in terms of fewest hours worked each week.
That’s sheer genius. Utahns are both smart and happy. Your mileage may vary, of course. This also raises questions about how the state consistently ranks high in terms of economic performance.
Regardless, my guess is that Utahns have worked even fewer hours than normal during the last couple of months. Has this affected their happiness?
As usual, that’s probably the wrong question. Happiness surveys, like all surveys, are only as good as the questions they ask. The number of hours you work may not have as much to do with being happy as a lot of other factors.
Which brings me to the latest happiness survey released by NORC at the University of Chicago. It studied Americans nationwide, not state by state, and it found what may seem to be two conflicting results. One is that American happiness is at an all-time low, at least compared to the last 50 years of data. Only 14% said they were “very happy,” compared to 31% two years ago. The other is that 80% said they were satisfied with their family’s financial situation. That, too, was a record, but on the good end.
Does this make any sense? Does money not buy happiness? Who knew?
It certainly puts the current recession in a unique light, although it may be hard to reconcile with a national unemployment rate of 13.3% (which some experts believe is inaccurately low). But it may suggest people see this as a temporary, pandemic-driven downturn rather than one being driven by systemic problems with the economy.
Or not. The people at NORC have their own take. The results, the report said, show “people are comparing their happiness to their own psychological well-being before the pandemic while assessing their finances in relation to the millions of fellow Amiercans who have lost jobs, wages, or investments following the outbreak.”
In other words, I may feel grateful for what I have, considering others have it far worse, but I sure wish I could get back with my friends and co-workers.
In fact, other parts of the study showed people today are unhappy with their social relationships compared to the past.
And in a unique twist, the study compared people’s reactions to COVID-19 with how people reacted to the attacks of 9/11 and the Kennedy assassination. The bottom line is we seem to be less emotional about the pandemic than people were when those other things happened; less likely to cry or stop eating. But we’re much more apt to feel like getting drunk — 27% vs. only 4% when JFK died.
I’m not sure what to take from that, except that a lot of us have been isolated at home for weeks, and that is taking a psychological toll.
A separate poll taken by Gallup last month — right as many states were beginning to reopen — found people were starting to worry less and feel less bored than the previous month. As a result, perhaps, 72% percent reported feeling happy much of the day prior to when a pollster called them. That was up from 67% during the early days of the pandemic.
It’s easy to get lost in all the numbers. The Gallup poll measured emotions as part of an overall day. A lot of folks may have felt happy, but a sizable amount also said they felt lonely and bored during parts of the same day.
Back in 1966, Conniff captured the complexities of happiness in that song he wrote: “To a beatnick, it's his beard, beard, beard; To a monster, something weird, weird, weird; To a night owl, it's a good day's sleep; To the Yankees, it's a four-game sweep.”
To that we might add, to an average person, it isn’t money, money, money, but friends and human contact.
That may not be catchy or fun to sing, but it’s a lesson worth remembering when all of this is over.