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The Washington Post reports that the General Social Survey, described as “one of the longest-running and most highly regarded public opinion research projects in the nation,” has just completed a survey saying that America is becoming less happy.

According to the story, “On a scale of 1 to 3, where 1 represents ‘not too happy’ and 3 means ‘very happy,’ Americans on average give themselves a 2.18 - a hair above ‘pretty happy.’ That’s a significant decline from the nation’s peak happiness, as measured by the survey, of the early 1990s. The change is driven by the number of people who say they’re not too happy: 13 percent in 2018 vs. 8 percent in 1990. That’s a more than 50 percent increase.”

One interesting shift noted in the survey: while it used to be that rural Americans were about 10 percent happier than urban Americans, that gap is narrowing, which the Post suggests could be yet another reflection of the growing urbanization of America.

It also used to be that white Americans were generally happier than black Americans, largely because on average the white population is economically better off than the black population. This gap also has narrowed, the survey says.

One thing that hasn’t changed, according to the story - Republicans tend to be happier than Democrats. In the past, at least, this has tended to be because Republicans tend to be more religious than Democrats, “which other research has linked to happiness and life satisfaction.” These days, however, it could have a more direct connection to politics.

The Post notes that other research confirms the broader trend: “The latest World Happiness Report, released this week, finds that a separate measure of overall life satisfaction took a 6 percent plunge in the United States between 2007 and 2018.”

This is important, it writes, because “economists have become more interested in happiness in recent years, party because of the growing realization that traditional economic measures - such as unemployment or gross domestic product - are incapable of fully capturing the state of human welfare.”
KC's View:
I found a bunch of stuff in this survey to be interesting; even though the downward tilt is slight, it seems to make sense because economic well-being and health are so connected to how happy people are. Not surprisingly, people who are well-off financially and relatively healthy remain as happy as one would expect them to be. (Money may not buy happiness, in my experience, but it doesn’t hurt.) But there seem to be more people in the country - or at least in this survey - who are economically challenged and/or facing health issues, and that affects their happiness, which shouldn’t surprise anyone.

“Happiness,” it seems to me, is an often intangible attribute. I’ve known some people in my life who, one would think, would have every reason to be happy, and yet they are misanthropes. And, I’ve known people who have every reason to feel happiness-challenged, and they are largely cheerful, optimistic people - happy warriors in the pursuit of happiness, which is all we are promised as Americans.

I worry more about the suggestion that we are not becoming healthier as a nation, nor are we raising people up economically as much or as fast as we should.

I also think there is a core mission inherent in these findings that retailers can and should adopt:

How can I make my customers happy?

I’m thinking beyond just saving them a few bucks or making shopping more convenient, though those certainly can be important factors. I’m thinking about making them happy in a more visceral way.

Like last week, I was in a Hen House store in Kansas City, and from the moment I walked in, I was happy. Some of it was from the energy with which owner David Ball treats his employees and customers. And some of it was from the energy that the store itself gave off - tons of animation, great looking fresh food, and staffers who seemed to be really connecting with the shoppers. From the moment I walked in, I thought to myself, “This is a place I would want to shop.” It made me happy.

I suspect it does that for a lot of people … and I’d be willing to bet that this is one of the things that David Ball and his folks have prioritized. In its own way, it can be the most tangible of goals.