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Americans Are More Unhappy Today Than In The Past 50 Years, Study Finds

A new study shows that Americans are feeling exceptionally isolated due to the pandemic. Researchers say this is expected and those experiencing loneliness can take a few steps to reduce their stress.

Americans are more unhappy today than they've been in 50 years, according to a recent study from the NORC at the University of Chicago.

The survey was conducted in late May, before the death of George Floyd sparked international protests. It tries to understand how American’s beliefs, mental health and outlook have shaped their attitudes during the coronavirus pandemic.  

So far, findings have shown less optimism about improving standards of living, less reporting of emotional and psychological stress post-outbreak, and half the participants say they feel isolated. 

Louise Hawkley is a loneliness expert and senior research scientist at NORC. She says she expected that people would feel lonelier due to COVID-19 but was surprised that not everyone is experiencing isolation the same.

“Everybody is really isolated, so why aren’t we all just off the chart lonely. That really gets the distinction between objective isolation — are you alone versus feeling isolated, which you can feel even when you’re surrounded by people,” says Hawkley.

The coronavirus pandemic is a particularly complicated stressor because often social interaction is the best way for people to relieve stress. Unlike other nationwide events like 9/11 or the recession in 2008, this event has forced us to stay isolated.

"The very thing we need to cope with our stress is what we’re lacking right now. So I think it’s going to be easier for us to feel the build-up of stress because we don’t have that social release that we’ve had in the past," says Hawkley

She says it’s important to understand that feeling this way is expected. Our bodies are programmed to feel loneliness as a way to encourage social growth.

“It’s normal to feel lonely, it’s also normal to get hijacked by those feelings,” she says.

The important thing is to try and break the cycle of loneliness. Often people who are experiencing isolation become worried of being rejected in their social circles and begin to put up emotional barriers. This leads to a further feeling of isolation.

To break the cycle, she says it’s all about resetting your expectations. “Being more realistic about what they can get out of their relationships, they can gradually recover a sense of control and confidence, and rebuild satisfying connections,” says Hawkley.

Audrey is a producer, host and reporter for Lake Effect. She is involved with every aspect of the show — from conducting interviews, editing audio, posting web stories and mixing the show together.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.