Let’s face it. Americans are angrier and more divided than ever. Our political system is polarized and doesn’t seem to get anything done. Our news is full of negativity and tends to be depressing. Systems seem to be full of corruption and nothing seemingly is being done about it. There is so much to be unhappy about.

The World Happiness Report was released this past month by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, on behalf of the United Nations. It came out on March 20, the date that the United Nations has declared to be the International Day of Happiness. By the way, how did you celebrate your happiness that day?

If you are American, you probably don’t have much cause to celebrate. The United States came in 19th place, dropping one spot since last year and a total of five spots since 2017. Interested in viewing the report? Click here.

So how do you measure happiness?

According to this article by the Intercept, “Researchers measure happiness based on six specific categories: GDP per capita in terms of purchasing power; life expectancy; social support from networks of friends and families; having the “freedom to choose what you do with your life”; generosity; perceptions of corruption; and both positive and negative affect, or, how often people reported experiencing positive or negative emotions. Aside from GDP per capita and life expectancy, the data for all of these categories is drawn from self-reported answers to the Gallop World Poll.

So why is America getting less happy?

Per the same Intercept article (which explores the question as to whether a new green deal would make us happier…and is worth a read):

We found the only one of the six factors that has grown, income per capita, and that’s contributed to helping happiness but only by a small amount. It’s been offset by a declining sense of freedom and generosity and an increase in perceived levels of corruption,” said economist John Helliwell, an editor on the report.

“One thing that we have noticed in psychological experiments,” he said, is “that people overestimate the amount of happiness you’re going to get from more income or more consumption, and underestimate the happiness they get from more time with family and friends.”

Yes, we tend to know that and joke about it….money can’t buy happiness….but that doesn’t stop many of us from chasing after it with our time and energy….and at the expense of what really matters.

The world’s 5 happiest countries, by ranking, are Finland, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and The Netherlands. All are social democracies that invest more money in public goods such as housing, transit and education. They also tend to treat things like health care and child care as basic rights. And, they’re far less unequal in income than the United States, according to the GINI Index which measures inequality within countries. 

Meanwhile, income inequality in the United States continues to grow. According to this article by Vox, “From 1980 to 2016, the poorest half of the US population has seen its share of income steadily decline, and the top 1 percent have grabbed more. In Europe, the same trend can’t be observed.”

So….greed and growing inequality…..treating things like health care, child care and education as a luxuries to be driven by the marketplace rather than basic needs that we ensure are met….a declining sense of freedom….people being less generous to one another….increased sense of corruption in our institutions….I guess it can be amazing that we are as happy as we are.

Trump and his supporters love to promote the message of “make America great again”. I have no doubt that many in his base felt a sense of growing unhappiness with the way things are and have supported him out of a belief that he would shake up the system of greed and corruption and inequality….and bring back some equity to our country. But has he?

Each day the news cycle continues to spiral into negativity and divisiveness driven by the mean spirited messages of Trump. His tax cuts and other policies have increased inequality in our country. He continues to want to take away health care coverage provided by the Affordable Care Act and replace it with “something better” (when there is no plan for that “something better”). Our sense of corruption within the government has increased….mainly driven by the actions of Trump and his appointees. It is my opinion that many people are unhappier with the state of affairs and that Trump is a key factor in their unhappiness.

Has he done anything that has made America “great again”? Maybe if you are rich or you enjoy scandals or racial divisiveness. But by most standards, Trump has made America worse……and along the way….most Americans feel less happy.

But let’s be clear….. it isn’t the job of Trump or any President to make me happy. I don’t believe that it is the job of any one person to make another person happy. Happiness is an inside job….it begins by our choosing to “be happy”. Even in the midst of adversity, we can experience happiness.

Becoming a more happy person has many benefits….including many that are health related. Follow this rabbit hole if you are interested.

So how do you become more happy? There are lots of websites with list of ideas for you….link to another rabbit hole.

Having trouble being happy? Go back to that last rabbit hole and follow one to you get an idea that you can use right now! Go do it….the rest of this article will be here….

But wait! What about all of those problems in America? Am I saying ignore them and simply “be happy”? No.

In fact, I think we should all get involved as spiritual change agents to help create a world that works for all. I believe that so much that I wrote a book about it a few years ago.

Yes, we should address corruption in our institutions. Yes, we should address income inequality. Yes, we should work to ensure that all of our citizens…no exceptions….have access to meeting their basic needs.

But we don’t have to be miserable while we are working to effectuate positive change. Take steps today to bring more happiness and joy into your live and the lives of those around you.

Make America Happy Again!

Mark Gilbert