About 55% of Americans felt stressed about their lives in 2018. That’s a record high for this country. In fact, at a time when people around the world are feeling more negative than ever, Americans are beating global averages in terms stress and worrying. Not to mention, they’re also pretty angry.
Those results come from interviews of more than 151,000 people in over 140 countries for Gallup’s 2019 Global Emotions Report. To determine current life satisfaction, researchers asked respondents whether they had experienced certain positive or negative behaviors during the day before they were surveyed.
Questions that typically skewed positive involved whether someone felt well rested, had been recently treated with respect, or remembered smiling and laughing a lot. Those that signaled negativity involved experiences with physical pain, sadness, stress, worry, or anger. Overall, the countries where people are feeling most positive have relatively stable economies and communities with strong social ties (the top five: Paraguay, Panama, Guatemala, Mexico, and El Salvador). The spots where people feel extremely distressed are often war-torn and in the midst of social and political upheaval (the worst off being Chad, Niger, Sierra Leone, Iraq, and Iran, respectively).
Obviously, the U.S. doesn’t fit the latter description. And yet according to a separate analysis by Gallup’s world news division, the American stress level of 55% is 20% higher than the global average. In the U.S., 45% of Americans are also worried, which is 6% above the world average. Roughly 22% of Americans are angry, the same as the global average.
“The big story last year was that the negative emotions that everybody feels hit new record highs, so the world was its most miserable in 2017,” says Julie Ray, a Gallup senior consultant and the managing editor for world news there. “Well, in 2018 it is pretty much a repeat.” Except, she notes, that different emotional signals of American discontent has been climbing steadily for more than a decade. “The anger number, stress number, and worry are as high as we’ve ever seen them.”
Of course, there’s likely some cultural bias in the self-reporting. American’s daily upsets may have less dire stakes than in places where refugees are fleeing for their lives. And yet, for many people whatever is bothering them feels worth reporting. “Everything is filtered to your own lens,” Ray says. “So you have to take that into consideration when you’re looking at these numbers.”
Gallup’s analysis doesn’t state what’s triggering these feelings. But it does point out some commonalities among the afflicted: Emotional distress was particularly high for people under 50, and low-income people. About 20% more people on the lowest side of the pay scale reported being stressed, while 15% were more likely to be worried compared to those on the highest earning end. People who approved of the president’s actions were also far more likely to seem content compared to those who didn’t.
It turns out that Americans under 30 years old are also the angriest, which may signal interesting times ahead for both the country and perhaps the world at large. Ray isn’t sure if all these indicators are massive and consistent enough to call global anxiety a continuing trend. But, in this country at least, there appears to be an emotional meltdown in progress.