U.S. Falls on the Global Happiness Scale - Why Are So Many People Unhappy?

News Image By Sarah Holliday/Washington Stand March 2, 2024
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"Finland is the world's happiest country, U.S. drops to all-time low," the New York Post reported earlier this week. This was in response to Gallup's 2024 Happiness Report, which surveyed over 100,000 people in 143 countries. The poll was conducted over the course of three years and asked the participants to rate their lives on a scale of 1 to 10. The results shocked many, as the U.S., in 2024, dropped eight spots and now ranks 23rd overall.

However, ranking 62nd in a micro analysis are young people -- specifically those under 30 in America. It's a curious finding to many, and the question is then: Why? Why are young people so unhappy? And so much so, that they're dropping the happiness score of the entire country with them!

Well, it turns out a major suspected culprit is social media. This week, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said, "What's happening in social media is the equivalent of having children in cars that have no safety features and driving on roads with no speed limits. No traffic lights and no rules whatsoever. And we're telling them: 'You know what, do your best -- figure out how to manage it.' It is insane if you think about it." He even added that social media for children is similar to taking medicine that has yet to be proven safe.

This can't be too surprising, though. Social media, while it can be a beneficial tool for marketing, networking, and other things, has gone far beyond those uses. It's a cesspool of ill-willed sexual predators and scammers -- many of whom specifically target young people. But social media is also a breeding ground for comparison, jealousy, and cyberbullying. Young women see AI-modified supermodels online and begin to feel ugly in their own skin. Young men are unsure of what to think when the current social trend is that being manly is "toxic."

Other than the tragic ways social media can affect self-image, it's also increasingly becoming a place where young people get their news and opinions, despite its factual unreliability. Even still, there are more negative effects I could ramble on about. And yet, despite these dangers, the technological realm only grows in prominence and, in a sense, power.

So, what are we to make of it? How do we respond to the reality that social media is hurting people -- specifically, young people? And just as importantly, what is the path forward?

To help answer these questions, David Closson, director of the Center for Biblical Worldview at Family Research Council, shared his thoughts with The Washington Stand. First, he stated, "Christians should recognize the inherently subjective nature of this survey. It's literally asking people to rate their own happiness," which, of course, "is inherently subjective."

But despite its subjectivity, he said, "I do think the data represents a cry for help amongst the youngest generation of American adults." It stands to reason that Gen Z is among "the least likely generation in decades to have a biblical worldview," Closson noted, "and we know that they are spending inordinate amounts of time on social media." And in addition to all the ways social media can hurt a person, it's also prone to luring people into isolation. That is why Closson emphasized that "the antidote to a lonely generation is authentic community."

Thankfully, "a biblical worldview tells us where we can find authentic community," he said, and that's "in local institutions, but specifically for Christians, we ... find authentic community in the church, which is God's design for community." As far as Closson is concerned, "The solution to unhappiness is joy. Real joy. Soul filling, life-giving joy that comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ and is celebrated in community with other Christ followers."

In Dr. Albert Mohler's daily podcast, "The Briefing," he talked about this headline. Like Closson, he believes that a "fundamental issue for Christians ... is the limited usefulness of the word 'happy.'"

As Mohler said, "The world can have a world happiness index, but quite frankly, the Christian gospel doesn't explain that we'll be happy." Can we use the word 'happy' to describe our circumstances? Of course, as Mohler will go on to say. But he also clarified that our "salvation is a lot more glorious than just being happy." For both Mohler and Closson, what the biblical worldview would have us focus on is this dichotomy between joy and happiness. And as Christians, we have joy in Christ -- and part of our mission is to share that joy with others.

"The reality is," Mohler continued, "Jesus said, 'In this world, you will have trouble.' He didn't say to his own people, 'In this world, you will be happy.' In the New Testament, a word famously attached to the apostle Paul is a far deeper theological biblical Christian reflex and reality, and that is 'joy.' It is because joy isn't context dependent. Joy is truth dependent."

Ultimately, Mohler concluded, "Don't let the fact that, according to this arbitrary survey and the self-reporting of Americans, America slipped in one year from the 15th happiest country in the world to the 23rd happiest country in the world ... make you unhappy. And beyond that, certainly don't let that steal your joy."

I would agree with Mohler that the survey's result shouldn't cause us to be dismayed. The truth is, we live in a world that is broken, and a society increasingly departing from the truth of God. As such, unhappiness is expected. We were meant to be obedient and in communion with our Creator, and turning away from that has ramifications. But we, as Christians, know this truth, and it has set us free.

It's this truth that gives us joy and a reason to be thankful in all circumstances. So let's allow these results to motivate us to even more boldly share this truth and joy, rather than keeping it to ourselves. Because, if anything, this poll makes it obvious that one thing the world needs more of is true joy.

Originally published at The Washington Stand

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