Research Reveals Happiness Increasing for Youth
By Michael Cole
A recent study asked the question, “Are Americans more or less happy than in the past?” The answer turned out to be maybe: it depends at what stage you are at in life.
Cultures and individuals interact on small and large scales that, over time through mutual influence, leads to changes in how generations emotionally perceive different stages of their lives at different points in their lives. Researchers looking to understand how happiness is experienced by different age groups look at a factor they label subjective well-being (SWB).
Subjective well-being is affected by a number of influences, including rising median family income, larger homes, and the purchase of labor-saving devices. Adding to this figure of subjective well-being are associated factors like amount of leisure time, higher levels of education, longer life spans, and better physical health. Past research showed that subjective well-being was on the rise in America in sync with another social factor known as individualism, which places importance on oneself over others. Other psychological traits associated with subjective well-being that have increased in the past were extroversion, self-esteem, and narcissism.
Who's Up, Who's Down?
However, research suggests that subjective well-being for mature adults in America is on the decline. One reason for this decrease in happiness may be linked to the diminishing stability of social support relationships. For example, statistics show that while marriage rates and birth rates are lower, the amount of people living alone is rising. Also on the rise is an increase in materialistic values that has been observed along with an increase in anxiety and depression. Researchers theorize that as individualism increases, so does the pressure to perform and earn money, which may account for the rise in mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.
Although things are looking bleak for contemporary mature adults, younger generations are having a better time. This is thought to be because, even though increased individualism is depressing for adults, it can be uplifting for adolescents who are in a life stage where focus on the self above others is highly important.
For responsible adults there is a large gap between being individualistic and their obligations to others in the community. Recent cultural events like the Great Recession may also contribute to adult unhappiness, which can be linked to growing income inequality between social groups. While people are worried about saving their incomes, the creation of new social ties like marriage are diminishing.
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