Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

Turns out people in the U.S. are unhappier today than they’ve been in nearly 50 years, and about twice as many Americans report being lonely today as in 2018.

So concludes a study conducted by NORC — the National Opinion Research Center — at the University of Chicago. It finds that just 14% of American adults say they’re very happy, down from 31% who said the same in 2018. No fewer than 29% of Americans have ever called themselves very happy in the survey before this year.

Fifty percent also say they’d often or sometimes felt isolated in recent weeks, up from 23% who said that in 2018. And 45% say they sometimes or often have felt a lack of companionship, as compared to 27% in 2018.

This lends credence to the notion discussed in mental health care circles about a “loneliness epidemic.”

The public is also less optimistic today about the standard of living improving for the next generation — 42% today compared to 57% in 2018.

The survey was conducted in late May, so there’s no doubt that COVID-19 influenced the results, as people sequester and avoid dangerous large gatherings. Despite Vice President Mike Pence’s assurances in The Wall Street Journal recently that “we are winning the fight against the invisible enemy,” the sheer numbers tell a different story. Twenty-two states reported a spike in coronavirus cases last week, including North Carolina as well as South Carolina, Virginia, Florida, Texas and Oklahoma. COVID-19 isn’t done with us yet.

But the results of the survey can’t be entirely attributed to the coronavirus. Americans have been under increasing economic stress for many years now — as well as increased racial and social tensions, deep political divisions and, with talk about diminishing traditional safety nets such as Social Security, more fear about their prospects for a healthy and secure future.

In recent years, the financial rewards of labor have increasingly moved toward the top of the economic ladder while working people struggle to pay mortgages and medical bills. Many are just becoming aware of the degree to which our system is ingrained with — and marred by — racial prejudice and how it has hurt a large segment of our population. And all the while, political and media bubbles have increased our fear and loathing of one another.

So, even after the threat of the virus finally subsides, there are conversations we need to have as a nation, not just about our policies, but about our values and what kind of society we want — what kind of society would increase Americans’ satisfaction with their lives.

In the meantime, we have to cope with the current circumstances. That means drawing on personal reserves and helping each other.

Good advice abounds, and we hope our readers are taking advantage of it — taking time for self-care; reaching out to others through social media, by phone and, while taking the proper precautions, in person; contemplation and exercise. And there’s no shame in seeking professional help when needed.

This is also a good time to focus on what is important — what really matters. And to remember that some of the most rewarding moments in our lives lie not in what we do for ourselves, but what we do for others.

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