The Wall Street Journal recently published the results of their annual Happiness Survey of Americans. I love these cultural surveys because they give you more context to the life we are all experiencing. And, if you choose to live your life in a way that points people toward God, it’s always best to understand your audience.
You don’t go very far into the survey before you realize that as a country we’re not a bunch of happy campers. Only 12% of those surveyed identified as very happy. The other end of the Spectrum was termed “not too Happy” (the survey must have been drafted in Minnesota) and 30% of Americans surveyed put themselves fully opposite of the very happy crowd. The rest of the bunch fell in between.
I find this astounding. We all won the lottery by being born or being admitted into the United States. We live in the country much of the world dreams of getting to. Jobs are more plentiful and wages are higher than they have ever been. Individual rights are being emphasized almost universally across the country rather than responsibilities, so the freedom to be whatever you desire to be has never been higher. We should, as a nation, be ecstatic!
So, then, why are almost 9 out of 10 not over the top happy? And why are 1 out of 3 downright miserable? I mean, 80% of those surveyed felt the nation’s economy was poor – at a time when anyone looking to get a better paying job can get one quickly. Did everybody forget about the Great Recession barely 15 years ago? Now, that was bad! These are…remarkably good economic times. Yet our outlook to the future is clouded as well. 27% believe there are better places to live than the US (hmm, they need to travel for some perspective). 78% feel their financial situation will either stay the same or get worse. 78% also think things will be worse for their children’s generation. 56% think college is no longer worth it and only 26% expressed high confidence in the public school system. And I could keep going…..
You can chalk some of this up to cultural convulsion. I wrote on this last year as a cycle of upheaval and dissatisfaction the US goes through every 60 years or so. That should subside in another year. But while no survey can unpack everything going on, this survey did highlight an interesting values shift in the US:
When asked about their top values, 94% rated Hard Work as a top value. Tolerance was rated high by 90%, as was Money 90% and Self Fulfillment 91%. Lowest ranked values were Religion (60%), God (65%), Children (65%), and Marriage (70%). If our societal values are focused primarily on self (money, self fulfillment) rather than on how we relate to others (God, Marriage, children) than our measurement of happiness will be along those value lines as well. As a nation, we are trying to store up treasures for ourselves, and raging against this broken creation when it cannot give us fulfillment – even when things are great.
This is not a new predicament. Matthew 6: 19-21 sums this situation up well: 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (NIV)
As a nation, our heart has the wrong focus, and we are getting more frustrated by the month. We’re in heart failure. In consequence, we cannot see the enormous blessing that surrounds us every day. You, Christian, understand this. You hold the key to happiness, or, shall we say contentment, and you practice this in all circumstance. The world around you is desperate to have that joy that you possess within. Will you share your Source with a neighbor or co-worker?
Give Hope. Give Life. Give Bibles!