If you watch the news and spend a lot of time on social media, you might be left with the impression that Americans have never been so unhappy. So you might be surprised to hear the findings of the latest Gallup World Poll that surveys 150 countries each year to find out how people really feel. We found out from the analytics and advice company's managing partner: Jon Clifton.
Sharyl: What does it mean when some, when a country you're measuring their thriving index or whether they're happy?
Jon Clifton: So to get at the heart of how someone's doing we ask them two questions. One is, Rate your life on a scale of zero to 10 today, and then once they've done that we say, and then tell us where you think you'll be in the next five years. We aggregate the top scores of those, and then we call that index: thriving. And that's how we measure it.
Sharyl: What have you found that's new in this latest poll?
Jon Clifton: In the United States, one thing that we found that was concerning is right after the global economic crash we found that about 66 percent of people were thriving. And that dropped to around 54 percent.
Sharyl: What was the start of that, when, you say about the time of the crash when things started to go down in the U.S.?
Jon Clifton: So, in between 2007, 2008 there was a pretty significant drop in terms of how people felt about their own lives.
Sharyl: And what was about the low point?
Jon Clifton: So the low point was last year, right before the election. Two years ago, it dropped and it went down to about 50 percent right before the election of President Trump.
Sharyl: And what's new for this year?
Jon Clifton: This year it went back up, so we'll see it at around 57 percent of people that were thriving. And so we're looking into that, but one of the reasons might be that perhaps, Republicans feel that there's a little bit of hope in front of them. Again, we're asking people where they think they'll be in the next five years. So we think that might be one of the reasons that it went back up.
President Trump: The people of this country should be very comfortable.
Sharyl: There's a seeming disconnect between what you see in the news and online. It seems everybody is so unhappy, but your poll shows quite the opposite.
Jon Clifton: We have different things that we track on happiness, like Did you laugh and smile a lot all day yesterday? If you use that particular metric, Americans are actually quite happy, in fact, they're very happy on the weekends, and they're the most happy on days like Mother's Day and Thanksgiving. So, despite what you read here and see in the news, Americans still know how to have a lot of fun.
Sharyl: What are the happiest countries and least happy countries according to the latest poll?
Jon Clifton: The happiest countries in the world are places like Denmark, Switzerland, and Norway. And the least happy, the people who don't see their life very well are places like Syria, places like Haiti, and most recently one place that appears to be in total collapse, which is India.
Sharyl: So this measure, you're saying, is more accurate, in some ways, when looking at the mood of a country than many other things we look at.
Jon Clifton: You know there's a famous quote by Ronald Reagan when he was in the 1980 presidential debates with Jimmy Carter, and he asked a question that I think a lot of people felt was a turning point in the election.
President Reagan: Are you better off than you were four years ago?
Jon Clifton: Our data would suggest that it is, people do want to see change based on how they're feeling. Our founder has a famous video where he was being interviewed by Edward R. Murrow.
Edward Murrow: Dr. Gallup, I know you've surveyed public opinion on a great many subjects.
Jon Clifton: And Edward Murrow said to him, Dr. Gallup, of all things that you've surveyed on, what is it that interests you most? And the thing that he said back to him is not American politics, it was not election tracking. The thing that he said back to him was happiness. So we feel like we're actually going in the direction of what our founder was most interested by doing this, not just in America but around the world.
Clifton says in a way, Gallup's poll ended up foretelling the Brexit vote. Traditional economic indicators said things were going well as they were. But look at Gallup's so-called thriving index in the UK and it collapsed from 55 percent down to 40 percent right before voters decided to withdraw from the European Union.