America’s Overall Well-Being Has Declined Significantly, According to New Report

South Dakota ranks near the top of the happiness index | © Christian Collins / Flickr
South Dakota ranks near the top of the happiness index | © Christian Collins / Flickr
Photo of Elizabeth Nicholas
28 February 2018

Americans like to think that they are constantly improving and moving forward, but when it comes to happiness, a new study reveals that they are rather far from it.

The recently released Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index recorded a drop in well-being in nearly half of the states in America, and for the first time in the nine years that the index has been measured, no state had a statistically significant improvement in its well-being.

The happiest states in America? It’s a tie between South Dakota and Vermont. The two states had well-being index scores of 64.1, above the national average of 61.5. Hawaii, which had the highest well-being score in six of the previous nine years, took the number three spot.

Vermont is one of the happiest states in the country

Breaking down why these states may have performed better than others, the researchers found that Vermonters felt a strong sense of community, were physically active and had a higher-than-average sense of financial and social well-being. South Dakotans, meanwhile, reported feeling strong senses of purpose in life and also felt like they had solid financial and community support.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, perennially low-ranking West Virginia had the lowest score in the index. West Virginia has been beset by a number of structural issues in the past several decades, from the decline of coal and manufacturing jobs to the health hazards of the coal jobs that remain to the raging opioid epidemic.

West Virginia ranks at the bottom

But the study points out worrying trends that go beyond any one state. Despite many Americans believing the economy is on the mend, the 21 states that saw a drop in their wellness level far outweighed the previous record of 15 states experiencing such a drop, which was set in 2009 at the height of the Great Recession and financial crisis.

A number of worrying symptoms of an American malaise were reported in the study. Among other metrics, those that were responsible for this sharp and unprecedented decline included increases in people experiencing significant worry on any given day, being clinically diagnosed with depression, finding “little interest or pleasure in doing things,” and reporting physical pain. People also disclosed feeling less likely to like what they do each day, having fewer role models, and feeling less and less able to accomplish their goals.

If there is any positive potential to gain from the report, it is perhaps taking a close look at the indicators of well-being that the researchers used and trying to integrate them into one’s own life. For example, the researchers measured well-being by asking people whether they had supportive relationships and love in their lives, whether they had financial security, and if they liked where they lived and took pride in their communities.

For those looking to increase their well-being in 2018, a good look at how your life is aligning with those metrics might just be a good first step.

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