By Dan Witters and Sangeeta Agrawal, Gallup
- Current life satisfaction fully recovers, now exceeds 2019 levels
- Significant daily worry and stress drop to pre-COVID estimates
- Daily enjoyment is improved, boredom reduced
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The percentage of Americans who evaluate their lives well enough to be considered “thriving” on Gallup’s Live Evaluation Index reached 59.2% in June, the highest in over 13 years of ongoing measurement and exceeding the previous high of 57.3% from September 2017. During the initial COVID-19 outbreak and economic shutdown, the thriving percentage plunged nearly 10 percentage points to 46.4% by late April 2020, tying the record low last measured during the Great Recession.
The most recent results, captured June 14-20, 2021, are based on 4,820 U.S. adults surveyed by web as a part of the Gallup Panel, a probability-based, non-opt-in panel of about 120,000 adults across all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
For its Life Evaluation Index, Gallup classifies Americans as “thriving,” “struggling” or “suffering” according to how they rate their current and future lives on a ladder scale with steps numbered from 0 to 10, based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale. Those who rate their current life a 7 or higher and their anticipated life in five years an 8 or higher are classified as thriving.
In a broader context, according to the Gallup State of the Global Workplace: 2021 report, the percentage of U.S. workers considered to be thriving was estimated at 58% based on 2018-2020 data collection, which ranks 14th when compared with 18 Western European countries plus Canada.
The percentage of Americans estimated to be “suffering” has remained steadily low throughout the pandemic and in line with pre-COVID estimates. In June, 3.4% of respondents were classified as suffering.
Satisfaction With Current Life Steadily Climbs in 2021
The major drop in the thriving percentage in 2020 was characterized by a severe drop in current life satisfaction ratings. By late April, the percentage of U.S. adults who rated their current lives a “7” or higher had plunged about 11 percentage points, even as the anticipated life satisfaction five years forward had improved. As with the earlier decline in the thriving percentage, its subsequent rebound is driven primarily by changes in current life satisfaction.
Notably, even as current life satisfaction has increased in recent months, anticipated life satisfaction remains elevated compared with pre-COVID levels. The rapid recovery of current life satisfaction, coupled with the sustained elevated level of anticipated life satisfaction, has fueled the thriving percentage to its current heights.
Spikes in Daily Stress and Worry in 2020 Retreat to Pre-COVID Levels
In addition to the general life ratings, Gallup tracks whether Americans have recently experienced specific emotions, including stress and worry, in their daily lives.
The percentage of people who reported experiencing significant stress and worry “a lot of the day yesterday” showed unprecedented increases in the first half of March 2020, with stress rising 14 percentage points to 60% and worry rising 20 points to 58%. These spikes were about four times greater than what was measured over the course of 2008 as a result of the Great Recession. Reports of experiencing these emotions have subsequently fallen to pre-pandemic levels in both cases. Daily stress eased to 45% in January and has remained in the mid-40s since, while daily worry has declined further since the start of the year, to just 38% in April through June, down from 43% in January.
Significant daily enjoyment has also markedly improved, although to a lesser degree than the declines seen in worry and stress. In 2018-2019, about 80% of U.S. adults reported significant enjoyment the day before, which plunged to 61% at the onset of the pandemic. By June, enjoyment was back up to 73% of the adult population.
Meanwhile, another daily experience that has declined over the course of the pandemic is boredom. Close to half of adults reported this emotion in late March 2020, peaking at 47% in mid-April. As the economy started to reopen last spring and social distancing has eased significantly with the uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine in 2021, that figure has declined to 26% in June.
The marked improvement of key wellbeing metrics thus far in 2021 is due to a variety of factors, likely led by the widespread availability and rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines. By the end of June, about 54% of all Americans (including younger children for whom no vaccines have yet been approved) have had at least one dose, including 93% of those aged 65 and older and 60% of those aged 18-64.
Dovetailing with the rollout of the vaccine is the economic reopening, which has occurred unevenly nationwide but is now the case in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The broader economic recovery has also been inconsistent. June’s job report of 850,000 new jobs was an improvement over the two prior months, both of which fell below most economists’ expectations. And while wages are rapidly rising, the U.S. economy still has over 7 million fewer jobs than in February 2020 amidst a problematic labor shortage.
Beyond the vaccination rollout and improving economic conditions, though, is the critical psychological benefit of renewed social interaction. Reuniting in person with family and friends and joining in large gatherings of people such as at sporting events is a crucial part of social wellbeing. Past research has shown that those who spend six to seven hours a day in social time experience about one-fifth the stress and worry on any given day as those with no social time at all. These effects are likely on display as the levels of these negative emotions have improved to pre-pandemic levels in recent months.
Whether or not the recent positive trends in wellbeing are sustained remains to be seen. The concerning propagation of the Delta variant in the U.S., which now makes up over one-half of new confirmed cases nationwide, has the potential to slow social and economic progress. The Delta variant and other mutated forms of the coronavirus, such as the Gamma variant, have led health experts to fear a fall surge that could again lead to partial economic, social and school shutdowns in areas with low vaccination rates. Based on learnings from 2020, such occurrences could lead to another downturn in wellbeing nationally, though likely not at the same level of magnitude suffered by Americans in the spring of 2020 given the sizable extent of the vaccinations in many parts of the country.