Last year, global levels of unhappiness reached their highest point in more than a decade, according to the latest annual Gallup Global Emotions report, which was released earlier this week.
For the report, Gallup conducted interviews in 2017 with more than 154,000 adults in more than 145 countries to assess the emotional lives of people around the world. People were asked if they had experienced worry, stress, physical pain, anger or sadness for “a lot of the day” on the day before the survey.
More respondents answered “yes” than in any survey since 2005, raising the global “negative experience index” to a new high of 30. That was two points higher than in 2016.
Specifically, 38 percent of the people surveyed said they had experienced a lot of worry and 37 percent said they had experienced significant stress. Both figures were two percentages points higher than in the survey conducted in 2016.
More people also said they had felt physical pain (31 percent), an increase of 1 percent over 2016. Sadness also rose slightly to 23 percent.
The only negative emotion that stayed unchanged was anger (20 percent).
“Collectively, the world is more stressed, worried, sad and in pain today than we’ve ever seen it,” writes Mohamed S. Younis, Gallup’s managing editor, in the intro to the report.
Negative highs and lows
The country with the highest negative score — 61 — was the Central African Republic, which is in the midst of a civil war and humanitarian crisis that caused tens of thousands to flee their homes in 2017. Other countries with high negative scores were Iraq (59), South Sudan (55), Chad (54) and Sierra Leone (52).
“As in past years, people in most of the countries with the highest negative scores in 2017 were contending with some type of turmoil, and many at the top of the list last year have been there for several years,” the report notes.
In sub-Saharan Africa, negative experience index scores reached their highest levels in a decade in 24 of 35 countries. But it’s not just violent conflicts that are causing those scores to rise. Climate change is also a major factor.
Many of those countries “have been increasingly unable to meet the challenges posed by disease and malnutrition,” the report explains. “Chronic poverty, arid climates and a reliance on agriculture make the region’s residents particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Severe droughts leading to water shortages cripple the livelihoods of millions of farmers.”
The United States’ negative experience index score in 2017 was 32, which put it in a tie with Turkey and Chile for the fourth highest score among the 34 developed countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Greece, which remains in a post-Great Recession economic crisis, had the highest score (39) among OECD countries, and Estonia had the lowest (18.)
The most common negative emotions expressed by U.S. respondents were stress (43 percent) and worry (40 percent), followed by physical pain (29 percent), sadness (23 percent) and anger (17 percent).
Gallup also surveyed adults about whether or not they had one or more of five positive experiences on the day before the survey. At least 70 percent said they had smiled or laughed a lot, felt a lot of enjoyment, felt well rested, and felt treated with respect. A smaller proportion — 46 percent — said they had learned or did something interesting the day before the interview.
Gallup compiled those answers into a 2017 “positive experience index” score for the world of 69, a one-point drop from the year before and the lowest since 2011 and 2012.
The country with the highest positive experience index score was Paraguay (85), while that with the lowest was Afghanistan (48).
Latin American countries made up eight of the 12 countries with the highest positive experience index scores. The only countries outside that region among the top 10 were Canada, Iceland, Indonesia and Uzbekistan, each of which had a score of 81.
The United States’ positive experience index score was 78, which put it in a tie with Finland for eighth place among the 34 OECD countries. Among the Americans surveyed, 92 percent said they had felt treated with respect on the day before the survey, 83 percent said they had experienced enjoyment, 82 percent said they had smiled or laughed, 69 percent said they had felt well rested, and 61 percent said they had learned or done something interesting.
Why it matters
Gallup’s positive and negative experience indexes “measure life’s intangible — feelings and emotions — that traditional economic indicators such as GDP were never intended to capture,” the report points out. “”Each index provides a real-time snapshot of people’s daily experiences, offering leaders insights into the health of their societies that they cannot gather from economic measures alone.”
“This research is important because, despite the particular political system of any given country, leaders cannot effectively lead their societies, seek better opportunities for their citizens and ensure that future generations will live better lives than previous ones without closely tracking how citizens evaluate their lives and understanding the local realities they face,” writes Younis.
“Although developments on a national and global level tend to dominate news headlines, capturing the trends of hope — or despair — at the individual level provides the most valuable intelligence,” he adds.
For more information: You can download and read the full 2018 Global Emotions report through Gallup’s website, although you will first have to provide them with your personal contact information.