I was talking with my roommate today and sharing with her that the majority of Americans are happy and satisfied with their lives. But she didn’t believe me. I was surprised at her disbelief. Do many people presume that the majority of Americans are not happy nor satisfied with their lives? Perhaps many people are like my roommate and believe that the world is getting worse instead of better. But the facts are that the world and humanity, in nearly every measure, are indeed getting better. Don’t take my word for it, take Greg Easterbrook’s. In 2003 Easterbrook wrote a book about the trends and he wondered why people seem to be feeling worse, when in fact everything is getting better. His book, The Progress Paradox details what he found.
Statistics can be a paradox themselves because they can be used to argue nearly any side of an issue, so one must be careful to tread thougtfully through inferences drawn from them. That said, you may find interesting, as I did, the remarkable results two Gallup Poll
surveys reveal about American’s personal satisfaction and happiness. One poll was taken this time in 2007
and the other taken this
month. Last year’s poll shows that the overwhelming majority of Americans are… you got it, happy and satisfied. Twelve months later, the same poll taken just a few days ago shows – unsurprisingly – a drop in national happiness and personal life satisfaction among Americans and yet, the results are still extremely high.
The Gallup results are contrary to Easterbrook’s thesis. In Blogcritics Magazine, writer Eric Whelchel, , reviewed
The Progress Paradox and got a lot right, in my opinion. Near the end, Whelchel speculates on the apparent dissonance between the Gallup results and Easterbrook’s claims:
"…relying on polls to gauge trends in human happiness is inherently problematic; someone polled one day as being “happy” could have a different outlook on another day, or hell, five minutes after being asked the questions the first
time. Easterbrook also sometimes comes across as a dry intellectual by focusing on poll numbers a bit too much. He tends to de-emphasize the impact that daily events (loss of job, birth of child, filing of restraining order) have on a person’s outlook on life in favor of broader and impersonal categories."
Are the Gallup statistics right? Or is it possible that poll’s problems are introducing errors in the results? I don’t know, but my roommate didn’t buy them. How about you?