When Misery Has Too Much Company

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When Misery Has Too Much Company

Misery has a lot of company these days. Perhaps too much. The number of those unhappy, stressed or lonely has reached its highest point on record. America is not alone in its misery. However, it is hardly consoling that the whole world keeps it company.

This climate of discontent is the consistent finding of surveys measuring misery and happiness. They all reveal something of the failings of a society without moral anchors. They call into question the individualistic premises of modern society. Conversely, discontent does get people thinking outside the liberal box.

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The Misery Index
One major study of misery is a new Gallup poll of 154,000 people in more than 145 countries. The decade-old survey puts together a “Negative Experience Index.” Poll questions ask people if they have suffered certain negative experiences within the past day. The types of distress included worry, stress, anger, sadness and physical pain.

This year’s results stood out. Never have researchers seen such levels of misery everywhere. Near the top of those nations with the greatest stress levels is the United States with nearly half reporting mental tension. The first place spot belongs to dysfunctional Greece with two-thirds of adults reporting stress.

Such high levels of stress are surprising considering the degree of economic prosperity enjoyed by America and much of the world. Wealth should bring happiness. However, the survey reinforces what everyone already knows: money cannot buy happiness.

And that rule seems to apply everywhere. America was very similar to all other nations in all categories. The exception was stress in which the U.S. stood at 49 percent compared to the international average of 37 percent.

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Why All the Misery?

The study reports on the facts. It does not venture to give opinions as to the causes of the misery.  There is also no explanation as to why misery is found all over the world.

Some observers claim that the cause might be that everything is globalized and interconnected. Indeed, the way people experience life is ever more equal with all the same gadgets, brands and perspectives. Frustrating materialism puts all hope in a rule of money. A suffocating individualism isolates people and makes them lonely. If these depressing trends are globalized, then it would make sense that misery would also be shared worldwide.

Another possible reason for misery is the turmoil suffered by certain regions caused by socialism, political unrest and violence. All these things tend to spill over borders.

The Happiness Survey

The “Misery Index” findings are mirrored by another Gallup poll that is a kind of “Happiness Index.” While the survey is confined to the United States, it confirms the findings that happy times are not here again.

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The Gallup poll of 2.5 million Americans claims “subjective well-being” or happiness is down everywhere. People may have jobs and money, but they are also worried, depressed and unhappy.

The 2018 “happiness” study measures happiness by reporting on the personal lives of those involved. It looks at the quality of personal and family relationships, a sense of purpose and links to community.

The survey finds that unhappiness is evenly spread throughout America. Wealth and better education levels do not make a significant difference. Not a single state registered a statistically significant improvement in well-being in 2017. Overall, America experienced its largest year-to-year drop in the decade since Gallop began tracking happiness trends.

The unhappiness is manifested by increased depression, stress, daily physical pain, and constant worries. Some causes cited in the study included declining support of family and friends and frustrations with their standard of living.

The Stress Index Offers Explanations

A 2017 survey by the American Psychological Association focuses on the causes of stress. The annual “Stress in America” survey found that these causes were broader than mere material security. While many Americans were concerned about money and work, there were also large numbers that were anxious about the future.

Curiously, these causes were less self-centered than might be imagined. The stress survey reported that sixty three percent of Americans found the future of the nation to be a cause of major stress. About fifty-seven percent cited the current political climate as stressful while 59 percent said that present times marked the lowest point in the country’s history in their memory. Majorities also expressed stress over external threats to themselves and their loved ones. Almost two-thirds of adults (63%) expressed anxiety over crime. Sixty percent were concerned about terrorism, while another fifty-five percent feared gun violence.

Americans are turning to their fellow citizens in these times of distress. Seventy-four percent of those survey said they have someone to rely upon for emotional support. Another 57 percent say they manage stress by spending time with family and friends.

The survey also reported that Americans are more likely to become socially active as a result of their stress. Fifty-one percent said they were compelled to volunteer or support causes they value. Nearly sixty percent said they have taken some action over the past year to address their concerns about the future of the nation.

More Americans are concerned about America. And that is good. They are breaking out of their individualistic shells and looking beyond their self-interest. Times of tragedy are also times of searching. They force people to think about the most important things in life. Perhaps these times of suffering may give rise to solutions that will turn America back to God and those moral values that will return order to society.