Jean Huber, LCSW

Why Happiness Levels are Dropping in the U.S. and How You Can Increase Yours

If it seems like you’re not as happy as you were a few years ago, you might not be imagining things.

You might think that your neighbors have much higher happiness levels than you do, but that’s more likely a case of the grass being greener on the other side. Statistically speaking, your neighbors aren’t likely any happier than you are.

A major study of international happiness levels (yes, there’s really such a thing) shows that people in the United States are less happy than they used to be.

Happiness levels in the U.S. are dropping. That’s bad news on a national scale, but, on a personal basis, you don’t have to be resigned to unhappiness. There are things you can do to boost those good feelings.

Why Are Happiness Levels Dropping?

It may be hard to believe, but the U.S. has never even cracked the top ten on the annual World Happiness Report. Countries like Canada and Denmark consistently have us beat. But happiness in the U.S. is dropping, falling from Number 13 to Number 14 in the rankings this year.

We may have fun cities, relatively high personal incomes, and a lot of shopping opportunities. But rates of happiness are declining in the U.S. because of social factors. In short, we Americans feel like we lack social support, don’t feel we can trust our government, and feel like we’re losing freedom. Our problems are social, not economic.

The Importance of Social Support vs. Money

Measuring happiness is about more than just general good feelings. Happiness levels are related very closely to mental health. In the U.S., we tend to think that more money solves problems. But when it comes to happiness, social factors actually have a greater impact on our well-being than money. In fact, having a reliable support system in tough times equals about the same benefit as a 16-fold increase in income.

We’ve seen about a 3-fold increase in income per person since 1960, yet our happiness levels haven’t kept pace. If anything, our happiness levels are getting worse, even as we’ve become a wealthier nation. We may have Facebook, email and text messages to keep us connected. But Grandpa’s bowling league and Grandma’s friendship with the neighbors created a lot more real connectedness and happiness.

What Can We Do about It?

You don’t have to go to the amusement park to boost your happiness levels—although that certainly can’t hurt if it’s one of your favorite activities. Taking steps to be happier will definitely pay off, but it won’t happen on its own. Becoming happier requires some conscious, consistent effort. It all starts with a mindset where you choose to focus on the positive.

One of the contributing factors to lower happiness levels in the United States is the perception that our government is corrupt and we’re losing personal freedoms. It’s true that the 2016 presidential election raised concerns for a lot of people. But many of our fears about corrupt government and lost freedoms are fed by what we see on the news. Cut back on your news viewing and your fear is likely to decrease.

But the best way you can boost your happiness is to simply reach out to people. Make an effort to spend more time with your friends and loved ones. You don’t have to plan exciting parties or exhausting outings—even a phone conversation can help you to feel less alone. Isolation is the enemy of happiness.

You don’t have to move to Number 1 ranked Norway to become happier. Happiness levels have less to do with where you live than with your state of mind and the people in your life.

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