How Happy Are We?

Americans have long been considered an optimistic people who believe that things will get better and our actions can make a difference.1 But, after the last few years, are we really optimistic anymore?

As we were planning our annual holiday greeting, we thought we’d take a closer look at how happy Americans truly are, and who among us is happiest and not so happy.

For the answers we turned to our latest Willow Poll, conducted this fall with a representative sample of over 1,000 American adults.

The positive outweighs the negative

The good news is that in a typical day, most Americans experience some positive feeling or emotion (95%), with the majority saying they were treated with respect (81%), experienced enjoyment (75%) and smiled or laughed a lot (68%) in the past 24 hours. While still a majority, fewer felt well-rested (59%).

Exhibit 1

At the same time, two-thirds of us also have a negative experience in a typical day (68%), with just under half of us saying we expericenced stress (47%) or worry (44%) in the past 24 hours. About one in three experienced physical pain (37%), followed by sadness (29%) and anger (18%).

Exhibit 2

Considering these positive and negative experiences in aggregate, about three in ten Americans can be considered “happy,” about three in ten “unhappy” and the balance (40%) somewhere in the middle.

Exhibit 3

Who is Happy? Unhappy?

Consistent with what many others have found, we tend to get happier as we get older. On balance, Gen Z is more unhappy (33%) than happy (20%). Conversely, Boomers are more likely to be happy (37%) than unhappy (22%).

Exhibit 4

The differences are even more striking when you consider the “happiness index,” or the relative happiness of a subgroup compared to the total population. Boomers index very high on happiness, while all younger age groups index low relative to the total population.

Exhibit 5

What other demographics correlate with happiness?

– Men are slightly happier than women

– Americans with a college degree tend to be happier than those without a college degree

– Importantly, having a higher income doesn’t necessarily make us happier beyond a certain point, but low income makes us unhappier

Perhaps because their President is in power, Democrats are happier than Republicans today, and MAGA Republicans (Trump supporters) are the least happy.

Exhibit 6

Why Happiness Matters

Of course, happiness is good for its own sake, but it also matters to our Democracy. Happy people are more likely to vote and are more likely to feel that their vote will make a difference. If the midterms were a vote for our Democracy, happy people surely played a role.

Exhibit 7

Happy people also demonstrate more faith and resilience. They feel more in control of their lives, have more confidence in our institutions and are more optimistic about the future of our country.

Exhibit 8

While we can’t be happy all of the time, happiness matters and is worth aspiring to. Happy Americans live up to de Tocqueville’s vision that the future can be better and they are responsible for doing what they can to make it that way.

Heading into the new year, we at Willow hope you have a wonderful holiday, and wish you much happiness in the year ahead.

About the Survey

Unless otherwise noted, data in this report come from our recent “Willow Poll,” which explored confidence in institutions, the national mood, and other social and political issues. The study, conducted in August and September 2022, is based on online interviews with a nationally representative sample of over 1,000 Americans age 18 and over. Demographic quotas were established based on U.S. Census Bureau data.

Interviewing was conducted online by Prodege, an innovative global survey sample provider.


1 Alexis de Tocqueville.

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