In 2020, NPR reported, “Americans are the unhappiest they’ve been in 50 years, poll says,” showing that only 14% of Americans were “very happy.”
Some might retort, “That was during COVID chaos and government lockdowns, so it’s expected.”
But in 2021, most Americans didn’t show any signs of improvement to “just be happy.”
In Noreen Malone’s column in the New York Times Magazine (Feb. 20, 2022), “In the Age of Anti-Ambition,” she explained, “Recently, I stumbled across the latest data on happiness from the General Social Survey, a gold-standard poll that has been tracking Americans’ attitudes since 1972. It’s shocking. Since the pandemic began, Americans’ happiness has cratered. The graph looks like the heart rate has plunged and they’re paging everyone on the floor to revive the patient. For the first time since the survey began, more people say they’re ‘not too happy’ than say they’re ‘very happy.'”
The actual statistics look like this:
2018 – 31%
2021 – 19%
“Not too happy”
2018 – 13%
2021 – 24%
And if you think 2022 has lifted Americans’ spirits, think again.
In new research by Oracle, at least one-third to one-half of Americans have outright confessed they have forgotten what it means to be “truly happy”: “27 percent of Americans surveyed said they couldn’t remember what it meant to be ‘truly happy,’ 45 percent of Americans surveyed said it had been more than two years since they last felt ‘true happiness.'”
And what does the near future of happiness look like with the spiral of the American pocketbook because of skyrocketing inflation (highest in 40 years), from outrageous prices for gas to groceries and housing costs to mortgage interest rates under the Biden administration? You guessed it: more of the same.
Is it any surprise that both drinking and drug abuse is soaring across the nation right along with inflation? Why? Because people want to be happier. Worst of all, of course, is the opioid epidemic, now being led by fentanyl, the usage of which has gone through the roof, including for minorities and adolescents.
The American Medical Association reported only two months ago, in May, “The nation’s drug overdose epidemic continues to change and become worse. The epidemic affects every state and now is driven by illicit fentanyl, fentanyl analogs, methamphetamine, and cocaine, often in combination or in adulterated forms. More than 107,000 deaths were reported in the United States between December 2020 to December 2021.”
As devastating as those statistics are, the most alarming statistic to me is this one: Approximately 80% of the world’s opioid supply is consumed entirely in the United States. Can you believe that? That’s 80% of all opiates consumed by only 5% of the total world’s population, in America! There were about 300 million pain prescriptions alone written in the U.S. in 2015, which is almost one for every American if distributed evenly (which, of course, we know they are not).
Among young people nationwide, “17% (almost one-in-five) students has taken prescription drugs (e.g., Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin, codeine, Adderall, Ritalin or Xanax) without a doctor’s prescription one or more times during their life,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, an annual report conducted each year since 1991.
Why is opioid use skyrocketing among those in our nation? There are a host of reasons, including a few valid ones, like chronic pain, but we know that’s not why the majority are consuming 80% of global opioids. The fact is people’s hearts are stressed, anxious, discontent and hurting from life’s circumstances. And in a pleasure and comfort-based nation, largely unable to weather tough times and difficulty without an instant stress and pain reliever, they want (“need”) and take their “happiness pill.”
Dr. Peter Ubel, a physician and behavioral scientist, posits this explanation: “Even though many addicts are miserable, this misery doesn’t mean that their use of heroin or crack is irrational. As [professors Gary] Becker and [Kevin] Murphy put it: ‘People often become addicted precisely because they are unhappy. However, they would be even more unhappy if they were prevented from consuming the addictive goods.'”
Two things that young people today can definitely learn from older generations: the power of perseverance (weathering pain and difficulty), and the ability to find true happiness and contentment outside of a quick and temporary fix. I encourage more older adults (including of course parents, guardians and grandparents) to invest more time in the near future to encourage these character traits in their younger family members.
If a lack of happiness is contributing to the core of addictions to opioids and even alcohol – and I believe it is, then I highly encourage people everywhere to study and master the art of being happy and content by reading the latest bestselling book, “Happiness,” by my friend and prolific author Randy Alcorn (it’s available right now at half off through his website).
“Happiness” is one ginormous resource to discover yours and others’ true happiness, and regain health and balance in our hearts, minds, souls, households, communities and nation. I also encourage people to listen to Randy’s Happiness audio and video messages and check out the resources on his Happiness blog, where his series of Happiness articles are available free of charge. Start with this great Lifeway interview with Randy about the subject of happiness.
Randy couldn’t have put it better when he addressed how we are hardwired for happiness but with one serious flaw: “I argue in the book the problem isn’t they’re trying to be happy. God wired us to seek happiness. The problem is we seek happiness in the wrong places. …”
In so doing, we simultaneously overlook or forget the true source of happiness: our Creator.
That is also why in his book Randy quoted Thomas Brooks (1608-1680), an early migrant to America, captain of the militia and well-loved pastor, who explained 400 years ago an age-old truth: “Nothing can make that man truly miserable that hath God for his portion, nor nothing can make that man truly happy that [lacks] God for his portion. God is the author of all true happiness; he is the donor of all true happiness; he is the maintainer of all true happiness, and he is the centre of all true happiness. … He that hath him for his God, for his portion, is the only happy man in the world.”
The Bible describes it this way: “God, You make known to me the path of life; You will fill me with happiness in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.” (Psalm 16:11)
America’s founders understood that spiritual fact. That is why they stated it among our unalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence: We are “endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”