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Americans Are Among the Most Stressed-Out People in the World, Reporting Negative Emotions at Highest Rates in a Decade

But the news isn’t all bad: Americans also reported generally more positive experiences than the rest of the world

55 percent of Americans reported feeling significant levels of stress in 2018 (Pixabay)
smithsonian.com

Last year, Americans experienced stress, anger and worry at levels largely surpassing those seen over the past decade, Gallup’s annual survey of global emotions finds. More than half of United States respondents—around 55 percent—reported feelings of high stress the day prior to being polled, according to a Gallup press release, while 45 percent said they felt worried “a lot of the day,” and 22 percent said the same of anger.

Americans’ stress levels were significantly higher than the global average of 35 percent, leaving the U.S. tied for fourth (alongside Albania, Iran and Sri Lanka) in Gallup’s ranking of the world’s most stressed populations. Greece topped the list at 59 percent, while the Philippines and Tanzania finished in second and third with 58 and 57 percent, respectively.

In terms of worry, the U.S.’ 45 percent was ahead of the global average of 39 percent. Comparatively, 63 percent of the world’s most worried population, Mozambique, reported strong feelings of worry the day prior.

Although Americans experienced anger at levels on par with the global average of 22 percent, this figure was still higher than in years past. On average, U.S. respondents were about half as likely to report strong feelings of anger as individuals from the countries topping Gallup’s list of the most angry global populations. Forty-five percent of respondents from Armenia reported feeling anger, while Iraq and Iran followed closely behind at 44 and 43 percent, respectively.

As The New York Times’ Niraj Chokshi explains, Gallup launched its global emotions survey in 2005. This year’s data is based on polling of more than 150,000 people across the world, including some 1,000 Americans. American respondents were also asked their age, income level and satisfaction with the current president.

Based on an analysis of this subject pool, researchers found that U.S. respondents aged 15 to 49 were more stressed, worried and angry than their older counterparts. Those in the lowest 20 percent of the income bracket reported higher stress levels than those in the top 20 percent. Those who disapproved of President Donald Trump were far more likely to experience negative emotions than those who approved of him.

Speaking with Chokshi, Julie Ray, Gallup’s managing editor for world news, says, “We are seeing patterns that would point to a political explanation, or a polarization explanation, with the U.S. data, but can we say that definitively? No.”

According to the Washington Post’s Rick Noack, the overall “World Negative Experience Index”—based on measures of anger, worry, sadness, stress and physical pain—stayed at the same level seen in the previous year’s report thanks to a slight drop in stress levels, which countered an uptick in feelings of worry. Given the fact that 2017 saw this index reach a record high, however, maintaining it isn’t exactly a feat worthy of praise.

In Chad, a North African nation officially deemed the country with the most negative emotions in 2018, more than 7 out of 10 said they had trouble paying for food at some point in the previous year, and as many as 61 percent experienced physical pain. Interestingly, BBC News reports, Chad’s stress levels still stood at lower levels than the U.S., with 51 percent of respondents experiencing feelings of high stress the day before.

At the other end of the spectrum, Paraguay and Panama tied for most positive countries surveyed. Aside from Indonesia, the rest of the nations rounding out the top 10 also hailed from Latin America, reflecting what the report terms “the cultural tendency in the region to focus on life’s positives.” As Gallup's global managing partner Jon Clifton summarizes, Latin Americans may not always rate their lives highly, but in the end, they “laugh, smile and experience enjoyment” better than anyone else in the world.

“I think it’s not a coincidence," Ricardo Ainslie, a Mexican-born psychologist and director of the University of Texas-Austin’s Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, tells USA Today’s Josh Hafner. “Latin Americans tend to be so family-focused that I think that provides a sense of ‘Whatever happens, I’ve always got this. [Family] is always my bedrock.’”

The survey has its weaknesses. As the Post’s Noack writes, perceptions of emotions can vary greatly by culture. Circumstances described as negative by respondents from one nation (likely a developed country) may be perceived as extremely positive by those from other countries. Still, it’s worth noting that a recent United Nations assessment of Gallup polls from 2013, 2014 and 2015 found six recurring predictors of happiness across the board: wealth and longevity, unsurprisingly, but also less quantifiable measures, such as social support and faith in business and government.

The New York Times’ Chokshi points out that the U.S. results aren't entirely disheartening. Despite reporting high levels of negative emotions, Americans also said they had more positive experiences—encompassing enjoyment, feeling well-rested, learning new things, smiling or laughing, and being treated with respect—than the global average. As Newsweek’s Shane Croucher observes, an impressive 90 percent of Americans polled said they felt respected, while another 82 percent said they had experienced enjoyment the day prior.

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