The Rising Tide of Global Sadness

Oct 27, 2022 · 685 comments
Peter Rasmussen (Volmer, MT)
Unproductive and harmful emotions: Anger, hatred, sadness, mourning, self-pity, fear... These emotions are most harmful to those experiencing them. If you hate someone, do you really thing they care? Who does that hatred harm the most? Instead of being angry, do something about it. You can stop yourself from feeling these emotions...just stop. It takes commitment and discipline, but it's as simple as that. Some people just like to wallow in negative emotions like hatred and self-pity, instead of taking action. They should stop. We are responsible for, and capable of governing, our own emotions. Politics, for example...why all the depression and angst? We Americans live in a country where we are free to fight for what we believe, without fear of ending up in the Gulag, because of our beliefs and efforts. Enjoy it! DEMOCRACY ISN'T ABOUT ALWAYS GETTING WHAT YOU WANT, IT'S ABOUT EVERYONE BEING ABLE TO PARTICIPATE. You can't satisfy everyone's desires at the same time. It's impossible, and absolutely ridiculous to walk around depressed because the government hasn't satisfied your desires. Fight on and celebrate your right to do so!
J Hagen (Sacramento)
I'm just one person and one data point. But I know that me and my family socialize significantly less than we did before COVID. My group of close friends has halved. There was a time around a year into COVID that I stopped caring about people who were still worried about meeting up to socialize. I realized it would never be the same. The deepening recession we're in has shown us the economic cost of our reaction to COVID. But it's going to take us more than a decade to realize the social cost. Many of us will build new social ties, but it takes a long time. I hope that our society learns that we need to look at the big picture costs of government policy and the law of unintended consequences.
JSH (Yakima)
@J Hagen My group of friends decreased when the GOP's autocratic entitlement bubbled up out of the swamp.
CSL (Hendersonville NC)
I can dream and imagine a world devoid of toxic conservative principles. I will say this - eliminate right wing propaganda - whether TV, radio or print - and the mood would elevate significantly. How pathetic that one party - one ideology - is based on creating enemies and thriving on hatred. Hint - it isn't liberals/Democrats.
Meredith (New York)
Funny column! We need a laugh, if bitter. Brooks has advocated for the Republicans, so what has Brooks ever done to advocate for people's 'growing disappointment with their lives'? Ain't it a shame, David ----people's 'anger, fear, disgust and sadness'? Aw. Brooks the hypocrite on this op ed page, supported the party that disregarded the rights and basic needs of the citizen majority, in order to grab more power and confiscation of the wealth and productivity of our nation. Now Brook's GOP is a threat to our very democracy, supporting shameless liars who show no respect for the voters. Each GOP lie is a slap in our faces.
Mr. Doe (Nowhere Town)
“How can you deny the light” — Edward Hopper
Diogenespdx (Portland OR)
Which is why I always say you should read : Capitalism and the Rise of Religion / for Dummies. By Diopdx - Coming soon. Let’s hope we get it right this time. Translation : The only perfect Capitalism is Piracy and the only true Christian died on the cross. (would you like some more coals on your head ?) ( Anyone ?) And the Pendulum swings, quote the raven, 'Evermore'
joe (Austin)
Capitalism is a killer is so so many ways. We humans need to transcend such a hideous economic system. The rest is just window dressing.
mike (San Francisco)
-- Overpopulation... You simply can not expect 8 billion humans to lead happy content lives.. The planet is not big enough to serve our ever growing population.
Bob (Portland)
Hence.........the "Global Misery Index".
RichG (Kansas)
Where are the Marx Brothers when we need them. And we could certainly get some belly laughs with W.C. Fields. These late night comics just don't have it. Go watch some of the old Groucho Marx "You Bet Your Life." And this advice goes double for Trump fans. Ups, did I say the unspeakable name that sends ripples through your diaphragm.
JMWB (Montana)
Another day in Paradise!
scottk (Park Slope)
let's stop measuring everything and pretending it means something
D. Keefer (Vienna Va.)
No mention of social media?
Emily Rasmussen (Santa Monica, CA)
Let's please leave Taylor out of this.
Red O. Greene (Albuquerque, NM, USA)
Music is not supposed to follow. Music is supposed to lead. You and I have so much more than others. Music shouldn't follow. Music should lead. Find it in yourself to lead, Taylor Swift. "What the world needs now is love, sweet love / "It's the only thing that there's just too little of" - J. DeShannon B. Bacharach H. David 1965
Shonuff (New York)
The job situation is responsible for 200% of my misery. That and the fact that I consider myself to be smarter than 80% of the planet (innately and in terms of knowledge) and I have applied to over 2000 jobs. The only ones I could get did not want me after 4 months (when people who nothing stand in judgement of me it is a very bitter pill for me to swallow, but swallow it I did and I still got canned). I knew a lot more about data asset management and the complexity of it than my supervisor who just knew how to check things off an excel spreadsheet. But they refused to listen to a word I said because I was just a lowly temp (reduced because nobody wants to hire an old woman). It used to take an average of about two whole years to hate my job so much that I had to fight back the urge to put someone's head through a plate glass window. Today, that feeling takes only about a week or two to arrive. And you just figured out that music just got negative. I was listening to stuff like the Sex Pistols back in the 80s. As bad as things were then, they are exponentially worse now.
Barbara (Montague MA)
Reason #5867 why policy makers should pay attention to Sociologists instead of Economists. And why Economists should pay attention to Sociology. Sociologists cite economics research, while Economists ignore not only Sociology, but Political Science. A small subset of economists has finally discovered inequality as an important phenomenon that drives other things. Good column, David.
Greta (Waltham, MA)
It is disturbing indeed to read about this documentation of growing sadness in the world. As with any trend, it makes me wonder: are we seeing an unlimited decline, or are we merely approaching the bottom of a cyclical pattern of happiness/sadness that will return us to a happy state one day? What makes me fear the former is that, as world population continues to increase, each person is using an increasing amount of the limited resources from our planet in their daily life. It scares me to think of the solutions that may be imposed as scarcity increases across the globe. We must be proactive in developing intelligent and sustainable means of sharing those resources in an equitable manner. And we should be ready to accept the changes in our own lifestyles that may be necessary for this to occur. Ultimately I believe that joy will emerge where love is allowed to conquer.
SLP (Philly)
I am so tired of feeling bad Mr. Brooks. If I exhibit any amount of enthusiasm, friends will criticize me for looking through rose colored glasses. Can't I have a moment of joy without feeling guilty? Life is truly beautiful, isn't it?
DJG (Severn, MD)
The world’s emotional health is on life-support. No problem. NASA and a handful of billionaires are getting ready to colonize Mars and space. How much will exit tickets cost? If you have to ask, you can’t afford them.
michael (hudson)
Well, one way to explain widespread unhappiness is the existential threat posed by global climate change. There is uncertainty as to the level of the threat. There is an accurate perception that the generation in power and controlling the world's wealth is doing little to nothing to prepare future generations for a world that is livable.
Kai (Mass)
From my 21 YO perspective, this unhappiness, especially among young people, comes from the messages we're being told about how to be happy, which is in large part, to follow your dreams. What many middle and late age adults fail to realize when telling us this are the massive barriers in place for most of us, primarily financial barriers. College is seen as a way to follow your dreams but yet the immense financial barrier to colleges that are most connected with resources prohibits many students from being able to attend, which then leads to a sense of failure, and to many observers, a sense the person they're seeing failed. Then we're told "well if you went to college..." It's all one massive feedback loop. I'm fortunate enough to be at an "elite" university, but I know I'm going to live with debt for the rest of my life. You might then say "you shouldn't have gone to that college." But the problem isn't that I went to my dream school, the problem is I have to carry the burden in the first place. The rate it grows is larger than the rate of our ability to get over it. COA at my school, 82k and goes up 3-4% each year. These feedback loops exist elsewhere, and lead to unhappiness. This is combination with information overload, knowing the world is dying, and other things make it difficult to be happy knowing we're locked into a society that requires these drivers of unhappiness (consumption, social media) in order to meaningfully participate.
Joe C (Marietta, GA)
For the most part people are motivated by survival and greed. Until this changes there will eventually be a constant rise and fall of empires. The only variation is some empires last longer than others. The United States experiment in democracy is at a tipping point. For the US the end of the great experiment could be soon. The signals are many. Here's one. Nancy Pelosi's husband was attacked today by a man seeking his wife to do her harm. What did Governor Youngkin have to say about this? He wished Mr. Pelosi good health then immediately pivoted to politics stating the Republican Party would soon send Speaker Pelosi back home to join him. When I heard this, I felt of rising tide of sadness within myself. Sad that as vile and reprehensible as Govenor Youngkin's comments might be, they are merely a sampling of the torrent of hateful comments made by the Republican Party on a daily basis.
Carol Vancouver Island (Vancouver Island)
Less of everything, including food, housing, medical care, protection from severe weather, is the unfortunate outcome for many when a very small percentage of the population hoards extraordinary wealth. And political leaders around the world are usually too cowardly, self-interested, and pleased with themselves, to address this increasing inequality.
weylguy (Pasadena, CA)
David Brooks is partly responsible for the problem. He coddled the Republicans for years until the madness of Trump and his acolytes convinced him that perhaps things were not quite right in GOP Land. It's too late to change things now, as we're seeing the start of a permanent Republican majority intent on cutting taxes on the rich and soaking the poor and middle classes. But Brooks is still a proud conservative, still convinced that there are crazies equally on both sides of the aisle. In a few weeks, there will be no other side of the aisle. I just wish Brooks would just go away forever.
Scintilla (Huntington, NY)
Jon Clifton will have to write a sequel. "Global Unhappiness And How Certain Leaders Exploited The Heck Out Of It".
Kim (Claremont, Ca.)
I lay most of this sadness at the feet of the Republicans! The continual lies and support of them, it’s exhausting for those of us that care about our country and our childrens futures…They have also presided over a country when 9-11 happened supported an unjust war in Iraq, the mortgage meltdown, 1,000,000 deaths from the irresponsible handling of the covid pandemic…it started with Reagan..but the recount in Florida was the beginning of the end
Samuel Taylor (Colorado Springs, CO)
Mr Brooks wrote, “ The bottom 20 percent is experiencing the worst. It’s a fundamentally unjust and unstable situation. The emotional health of the world is shattering.” That is progressive Democrat/socialist/marxist blather. People are living better today than in anytime in history of humankind. In China alone, more than 450 million people went from living in abject poverty to a middle class existence. Please stop trying to scare people.
AJ (Westchester)
@Samuel Taylor Middle class clearly doesn't equal happiness. Money can buy some level of security, but it takes more than that to be happy.
Tammy Nelson (Worcester,MA)
@Samuel Taylor Have you heard of deaths of DISPAIR. They are at an all time high in the US. Go do some research.
Walter J. Ullrich (Fresno)
I’ve been reading David Brook's op-eds since he became a NY Times columnist years ago and posted numerous critiques of his conservative perspective, I remain amazed at the "representative sample" the Times chooses to publish days later in Letters to the Editor. While I haven’t done a formal statistical analysis of the online comments section for his columns, it seems that nearly 90% of the comments are very, very critical of his coumn's perspective, with the number of total digital posts ranging from 1500-3000+. Yet those which are published -- if at all -- days later are not at all representative of the critical digital posts and are uniformly favorable to his point of view. Even worse, when the critiques are essentially negative, his column is not cited in page 3's "The Conversation: Five of the Most Read, Shared and Discussed Posts from Across", even when the number of online posts reaches 3400 (e.g., last week's mixture of disinformation, misinformation and dishonesty on the purported "red surge" and/or that Kari Lake and Adam Laxalt are the future of the Conservative -- not Republican, mind you -- party.) Finally, when the digital critiques are more evenly split (e.g., like today's on "The Rising Tide of Sadness, another psychobabble column that is simply a point-by-point, summary book report of various sources), I predict this column will undoubtedly be noted both on page 3 and actually published in a few days in Letters to the Editor.
TM (Philadelphia)
The content of pop songs and headlines aren’t just indicators of rising misery: they’re promoters of it. Ditto for social media. Misery loves company, and the crummy company most people choose nowadays is what they get through social media. It’s where everybody “cries in their beer” together. Unplug, people! Start communicating with people — including strangers — in a face-to-face way! You’ll be amazed at what you can learn from in-the-flesh people! It’s the best treatment for misery there is,!
Nick (MA)
Conservatives who don't want to do a single thing about struggles or unhappiness because helping people = socialism. Accepting climate change = liberal agenda. Helping marginalized communities = wokeness. Boomers screwed the whole planet over and will still fight tooth and nail to prevent the next generations from doing anything about it.
Nick (Concord, CA)
The miasma of hopelessness is in large part due to the inequality between the very wealthy and the poor. It is obscene and sucks hope from the heart. The warming planet is creating more misery for the poor who cannot afford air conditioning and whose farms are failing in the heat and rising sea level. Their world is by something the wealthy cannot possibly fathom. Yet the powerful wealthy are in charge. The increase in loneliness in society is a huge factor in global sadness. The concept that “I am unseen, unheard and that I do not matter to anyone” attacks the spirit and it’s safety line of hope like a blow torch. We desperately need one another.
PNW Inhabitant (Portland, OR)
I'm a little surprised and encouraged that only 18% of people are miserable at their jobs. Indifferent is not so bad if I think of all the fairly banal but essential jobs people do that make my daily life possible - from truck drivers to grocery clerks to baggage agents - on and on (in any given year only half of Americans travel by air; globally only one in ten - we don't all live the same way). I think every NY Times columnist should be assigned to spend two weeks traveling the US (on a limited expense budget) and two weeks traveling overseas - not meeting other great thinkers or high officials but instead just being in the ebb and flow of life that's outside their regular orbit. It might better inform columns that are now largely based on surveys and emails from other thinkers.
Rob Canada (Canada)
Socrates (wisely) writes about neo-feudalism. Almost certainly the direction humanity is headed enabled by today's and tomorrow's technologies of communications and manipulations and the technologies of tracking and control. Somewhat less wisely others write about capitalism as the cause; when more likely it is unregulated capitalism that drives us in the direction of neo-feudalism. Others focus on a core driving force of unhappiness and neo-feudalism, i.e., wealth inequality. We all ought to study Thomas Piketty more. Some days I think the 0.1 % have read Piketty; understood him very clearly; and are perversely using his writings as a blueprint for our futures and that of Earth.
bemused (ct.)
Mr. Brooks: Apparently, Ms. Swift is growing and maturing in her work and her person. After acknowledging that in this column, I am curious as to when you might be joining her in this endeavor?
Virginia Nielsen (Ft Lauderdale)
This particular Brooks column never did get around to his solution for ending all this misery - a faith-based society.
curious (Niagara Falls)
@Virginia Nielsen: A little vague: which faith are you suggesting should be imposed on which society?
Steve Bolger (New York City)
@Virginia Nielsen: Belief without proof is strictly for fools.
Chaudri the peacenik (Everywhere)
David, you have caught the essence of "today" so well: extreme polarization.
Martha Skeeters (Oklahoma)
I’ve recently read that “moral injury” can occur not only to those acting against the values they’ve been taught but also to those who observe actions of others which contradict their and the community’s values. This helps to explain my own unease in spite of a personally positive situation. When I saw my own country develop and pursue a practice of separating children from their parents (with no plan ever to reunite them), I was heartsick, despairing and angry. Those feelings multiplied when people I heretofore had considered decent were indifferent to this at best. The world just changed colors for me. People were not who I’d assumed they were. There have been multiple instances of this realization though this one was by far the worst. It defined indecency without condition. Now I’m being told by many that my outrage is causing the societal difficulties we all are troubled by. It’s really very clear that great swaths of us are suffering moral injury and acting or seeking to act to redeem our government’s actions. I can see that people of various political stripes/values may be suffering moral injury for various reasons, but people’s take on the separation of children from their families clarified for me where the moral injury really lies. In a small way, I act to make positive change, to redeem my country and myself (represented by my country), but I consider German history and what I am currently witnessing, and I know I’m not doing enough, can never do enough.
JA (Brookline)
I agree wholly with your sense of generalized moral injury, though I might quibble with its epicenter. As I see you live in Oklahoma, I’d note that the government practiced forced separation of native peoples from their land and from their children (in the context of mandated boarding schools) for generations; in the fifties, one could purchase a native child for $10 as part of a church-run adoption process. Communities in your home state still struggle with the legacy of this trauma and you could dedicate some of your moral injury to assuaging theirs. All of that said, the moral injury of fracking (widespread water and land contamination, often alongside the very communities said to “benefit” from extraction) has broken me. The larger lens of the unceasing destruction of our environment and lack of political alignment to stop climate change leadens our every step. There is no shortage of objectionable circumstances, only dwindling time in which to manage them for our descendants. That said, as failure is not an option, it is probably best to focus on the healing and not the wound.
Alexis it Doesn’t Have To End (Bunkhars)
It honestly feels that Brooks is just projecting. Look at his latest opus's: "What's wrong with America's boys?", "Global Sadness", etc. For many of us, boys AND girls alike, life is bright and wonderful just about NOW.
freeasabird (Texas, USA)
@Alexis it Doesn’t Have To End - "It honestly feels that Brooks is just projecting," you wrote. Maybe another read of the Brooks's piece is in order.
Caded (Sunny Side of the Bay)
Polls, surveys are virtually meaningless to me, and they seem to have taken over the columns of many. Do you really think 150,000 people can tell you how 8 billion people are thinking?
Mike (SC)
@Caded So long as they used good methods to select the 150K out of 8B, yes, absolutely that many people can tell you a lot about the broader group. In fact, with that many people sampled, you can start to get very, very small margins of error. Now, of course the magic here is selecting 150K who represent 8B. You do that in a biased way (which often is exactly what happens) and you can get any result you want. But without question, if you do it well (selecting the 150K), yes, you can learn a tremendous amount about the broader group.
Brenda (Pennsylvania)
I listen to NPR pretty much every day and notice that many many stories are about how horribly someone has been treated: Farmers bemoaning too little rain or too much; Black people who have been subject to racist behavior; Women subject to sexist behavior; Trans people, disabled people, poor people, sick people, Asian people, young people, old people and on and on---- everyone has been treated badly by someone or something. While these people surely do have legitimate grievances, this constant litany of unhappiness can't but inevitably seep into your life.
Paul Weber (Tacoma, WA)
You didn't mention a key factor: changing climate. A great deal of the misery in India and Asia, and around the world in general (flooding in the U.S., farmers leaving Honduras) is due to this factor, exacerbated by unlimited population growth. As a comfortable American it's difficult to understand working in 120 degree heat, or shortage of basic foodstuffs in many places and certainly that has a huge influence on happiness.
zeke27 (Hudson Valley, NY)
It appears that people are still singing the blues and country music memes still rule the radio. Life has never been easy. Hanging the world's misery on one or another cause is impossible. People with resources, money or smarts, go to where they think they can be happy. What gets left behind, gets left behind.
Alberto (New York, NY)
I think the tittle of the book “Blind Spot: The Global Rise of Unhappiness and How Leaders Missed It” is hypocritical as some prefer "disingenuous." Why assume that "leaders" care about anything but their own success?
Alberto (New York, NY)
@Alberto CORRECTION to my comment: ..."is hypocritical as some prefer "disingenuous." should have been is hypocritical, but some may prefer to call it "disingenuous."
F. Perrin (New York)
Listen to Beethoven and you will suddenly feel much better.
David (Poughkeepsie, NY)
@F. Perrin Yes, great comment! Or Mozart, or Brahms, etc., etc.
Girish Kotwal (Louisville, KY)
Global sadness is highly exaggerated. I have landed on every continent of our planet and despite battling a ferocious war with COVID and almost exiting the planet, I am happy to be alive to try and accomplish what I could not before COVID for alleviating suffering of my fellow human beings. Let us take the 2 most populated countries in the world, China and India. Those who are apprehensive about their own future in these 2 countries try to leave them and considering millions of Indians and Chinese have made a home out side their motherland are doin fine and no longer sad. Majority of residents of China and India are not sad. My facebook friends around the world share their happy images of life in their corner of the globe. Considering currently there is record crime, record homicides, record Fentanyl deaths , record suicides, record hyperinflation in the USA there is certain a high rate of sadness in the third most populated country in the world, USA. The inability of the Biden-Harris admin to secure the Southern US border and secure world peace is certainly troubling. It is very sad that the once prosperous nation Ukraine and bread basket of Africa and Europe until Feb. 24, 2022 has become a basket case of humanitarian catastrophe with no end in sight due to an unending war of attrition and colossal misery. After NATO nations did everything they could possibly do help Ukraine be better armed, competent diplomacy and dialog advocated by China and India was NOT deployed.
katweetie (Maine)
Also - the happiness of the top 20% has increased? that's interesting. Has it increased... ...because they compare themselves gratefully to more people below and notice how better off they are?? (Seems doubtful, as gratitude is not a noted feature of the fortunaate) ... or is because they've learned and been able to implement things that actually make people happier? and if so could these be disseminated, or are they dependent on being rich? Seems like there's potentially something to be learned here.
Kayce (NJ)
IMHO, tech and the Internet have ruined our lives, made us lonelier, less tolerant, less willing to think for ourselves and more vulnerable to liars. We wake up everyday, preparing ourselves to battle life, battle each other, and it’s making us sick, physically, mentally, spiritually. I’m exhausted by it all. And I can’t be the only one.
James (Newport)
Hate to cite a Russian right now, but in Dostoevsky's Dream of a Ridiculous Man, the protagonist comes to the realization that we could live in a utopia, except for one thing... er... people. People are not good. Mostly they are passive and self absorbed. Often they purposely harm others and purposely create a society that is toxic. Occasionally, rarely, they rise above their nature and show love, compassion, selflessness, and empathy. If you look at history, this principle is a constant.
Benjamin Greco (Belleville, NJ)
I don't know if we are more unhappy then we have been in the past. WWII couldn't have been a very happy time nor was the black plague years exactly Mardi Gras. The conservatives on this paper seem to be longing for another great awakening. Someone should tell them to stop. What I do know is that this article is a good example of mis-using statistics to make your point. Should we really measure happiness by the occurrence of words in pop lyrics. Sounds a little silly to me. Brooks is talking about miniscule changes and making them sound portentous. The number of people who are really unhappy quadrupled! Which means it went from 1.6 to 6.4, which isn't very many people. There is an epidemic in this country of people throwing around statistics to make dubious arguments and that makes me very unhappy.
Mary Sweeney (Trumansburg, NY)
As horrible as the Black Plague and WWII were, each only lasted for a handful of years. Afterward, the survivors were no doubt traumatized but they could at least see life returning to normal. But we have some existential problems--the climate crisis and the constant threat of nuclear war--that are not going to go away in the lifetime of anyone now living and probably beyond. We have also been experiencing the quagmires of "small" wars for decades. And so far we have been unable to completely emerge from the covid pandemic and have also proven ourselves unable to do a first-rate job of handling whatever future pandemics may arise. This constellation of never-ending problems can produce daily, ongoing stress that is probably more akin to that experienced by someone who is trying (with little help) to deal with a chronic illness than to the extreme but much shorter-lived stress of a catastrophe in which there is at least some hope for a relatively rapid return to a better life.
BCM (Kansas City, MO)
In recent years, I’ve seen many headlines about deaths of despair and ruminations about the source of pervasive sadness. Has anyone considered that maybe life just isn’t that great, especially in the United States? Fervent optimists always point to family, friends, pastimes, hobbies, vacations, et cetera as the “selling points” of life, but a vast majority of life in terms of time is devoted to things that no one wants to do—namely, working at an unfulfilling job and performing tedious chores around the home. The stark realization is that for nearly all of us, most aspects of life have very limited upside and nearly unlimited downside. You’re not going to win the lottery or be rich and famous, but you will inevitably live to endure hardships such as job loss, illness, or the death of someone you love. Each day is a relentless grind in a futile attempt to “have it all,” but the zero-sum game that is time means that no one can have it all and so some aspect of one’s life must always be relatively neglected. We buckle down and think if we just work hard enough, we can still have everything we need and want. But it’s a fool’s errand. The way American society has been organized isn’t sustainable environmentally or in terms of the health and wellbeing of Americans. The injustices, indignities, and abuse we tolerate as employees, consumers, voters, patients, and students is astonishing.
Opus (Cape Cod)
We have leaders that create an environment of discontent for their own narrow ends. leaders like Trump, Xi, Bolsonaro and Modi only care about their own power not bettering the human condition or elevating the public conversation. Fear of the other, fear of crime and fear of ideas take hold to better enshrine political power, where a an ecosphere that thrives on negativity envelopes the population and will not create anything positive. For the young growing up with this substrate combined with lessening opportunity and the constant fear of a future that includes environmental disaster, can we expect anything greater the results mentioned in this column.
Tom (Des Moines, IA)
This graduate of a Protestant seminary would call the phenomenon David tries to identify a spirituality crisis. More people have become more worldly--as opposed to more concerned about God--that the happiness deficit can be judged as either a matter of one's personal wealth (almost always less compared with others) or as one's lack of spiritual community (in big decline, as per social scientists like Robert Putnam). I see less and less proof that Christian beliefs are reflected in positive spirituality. Christianity has increasingly less effect on the world at large, mostly because its communities (churches) hardly suggest that what I consider Christian values are being properly practiced (eg, manifestations of the Spirit are weak). If there is ever a time when Christian enlightenment (often called "awakenings") could promote the general welfare of us all, it's now (IMHO).
Todd Fox (Earth)
The buying power of social security has decreased by 40% over the last couple of decades. Do you think this might have anything to do with a decline in emotional well being. Families are forced to work, work, work and women are expected to leave their children in the care of other people for most of the day so they can "lean in" and do even more. They leave babies behind and are sold the idea that hooking yourself up to a machine is the same as nursing their child. Older people have struggle to find safe, reliable fixed income over the last five years of near-zero interest rates, and they're worn out from that and covid. Children are so over-scheduled that they are busy, busy, busy all the time. They have no time to just sit and draw, or play with their friends. Do you think, maybe, this perpetual stressed out busyness is having an effect on us all?
Dreamer (Atlanta)
GDP, personal net worth, Purchasing Manager's Index, misery index, revelers enjoy, worriers cut themselves in the feet. One man's music is another's migraine. Like seasons, mood shifts, winter cannot exclude spring, quote. After Good Friday comes Easter. Plenty of water flows under the bridge. In spite of the flow of water besides, the stone stay put. Going around the earth in 90 minutes, gorgeous earth is a witness to the vagaries of the species it inhabits.
Hearan (San Francisco)
There can be many reasons why people are unhappy but I can say for South Korea where I am from. Many kids in South Korea study 15-20 hours a day just to enter a good university. They look for jobs after graduation, but there are not enough jobs to make a living, like getting married and buying a house, which all requires decent amount of money. Many bright students study again for 5-10 years to be a public worker (often 1:200 competition rate). With so much time to study, there is little opportunity to socialize and find a hobby. This emotional prison puts people into depression and anxiety, and yet my parent generations don't understand why young adults are having a hard time. "At least you are not starving like we did, what's so hard about studying with plenty of support?". It is also socially a taboo to go see a therapist because it can be a significant disadvantage to your insurance and employment. Endless competition and social expectation eats people. At this point it's better to have robots replace humans to follow this killer routine.
M Habibi (Portland OR)
I think this is the consequences of capitalisms around the world and in the US. Unfortunately politicians are driven by their self interest and not fit or willing to solve the inequality problem.
Gata (Kattville, CA)
There must be a selection bias in the surveys, especially the ones conducted among Chinese people. I left China when I was a teenager back in the 90s. During recent years when I went back, the random Chinese people I talked to were overwhelmingly positive. When they learned that I had lived outside China for 30 years, they pitied me — because I “missed out on the good life.” People often started telling stories by saying, “Now that life is so much better…” Perhaps when Westerners conduct research in China, they can’t help but select those who are dissatisfied, aggrieved, or for any reason just feeling grumpy?
JamesR (Bronx, NY)
@Gata how recent is "recent years"? Because a whole lot has happened in the past few years to dampen spirits globally.
AName (CA)
@Gata I mean... It can't all be roses unless you're absolutely minimizing your evaluation to within six feet of yourself, yes? If the US recently decided to imprison an entire people based on ethnicity, it would be a struggle for me to start any sentence with "Now that life is so much better..."
AName (CA)
"We conventionally use G.D.P. and other material measures to evaluate how nations are doing. " This admission should embarrass us all, the practice is juvenile at best. A similar approach could be 'how can this person be dead if they have ten toes?' Unless the D stands for Despair, the very healthy US GDP is not exactly a great measure of our well-being. Life expectancy would be a good alternative since very few dead people are happy. Ours has been dropping for many years and is now the lowest of any developed nation. This drop is largely attributable to deaths of despair: Suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, etc. but is definitely impacted by our lack of a modern and humane healthcare system, COVID laid bare the dangers of a poorly medically supervised population. We wash down oxycodone with whiskey, accumulate guns at an alarming rate, assault our own government buildings, overeat to the point of disability, spend our days 'yelling' at each other on twitter, and praise each other for avoiding family gatherings where some of these behaviors stand a chance of being addressed. How exactly do the GDP numbers inform us further?
Robert (Minnesota)
Spiritual teachers will say that the world is not here for your happiness, but rather for your awakening. When that happens there can be more equanimity. You can be more ok with things as they are, or you use wisdom for change (not reactions). I am not sure this is happening on a large enough scale yet. When it does, the rancor and hostility will drop a lot, and you will see cooperation rather than screaming. problems will still exist however, but more collectively addressed.
David M (Chicago)
There are lots of reasons. On the top of my list, is that people are find happiness in material things. Were we happier when we had less? When buying was not a source of pleasure? Buying only gives short term happiness. It is like heroin - it wears off and then you need another dose.
luther (CA)
"Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be." Abraham Lincoln. This, from a man who oversaw a nation split in civil war, the deaths of his beloved boys, the hysterical and spendthrift ways of his wife, the battles in Congress and Cabinet over how to thwart his agenda, a bad economy and a severe loss of people's faith in reconstructing a battered nation. He was not a happy man but he kept going. Perhaps that is the best we can hope to do presently. Were he alive today, he would face the realities of inflation, a split nation and the economic divide and he would find a way to turn the problems around. Let's start by questioning why Elon Musk spends so much money on playtoys like Twitter and very little on humanity. Tax the rich proportionately and start leveling the playing field.
Jackson (Virginia)
@luther So your solution to unhappiness is tax the rich.
Lenny (Los Angeles)
I have everything I could possibly want (food, shelter, a great marriage, a steady job, good health and family) and yet I’ve been so sad for the past few years. I don’t know why and I doubt there’s any easy answer. Maybe it’s social media, maybe it’s turning 40, maybe it’s seeing friends do much better than me and feeling disconnected from any community. But I’m not doing well.
Mia (Brooklyn NY)
@Lenny I totally understand. There is just this pervasive sadness in the air that I have felt since 2016. The world's general atmosphere seems to have turned darker, meaner, and more cynical. For me, social media is a scourge. That said, my volunteer work has brought me into contact with kind, giving individuals and reminded me there is beauty in the human spirit. I'll just try to focus on service, the people I love, and nature and block the rest out I guess.
Diogenespdx (Portland OR)
@Lenny Or maybe it’s just a lack of serotonin. I hear the Romans were irritable until they replaced their lead pipes. would explain a lot. Behavioral sinks too.
G Kelleher (Ireland)
In the world of Christ, it is just as necessary to experience sadness as it is to experience joy. The more encompassing the experiences, the more creation is filled with both as we are the centre and circumference of all there is. "To the eyes of a miser a guinea is far more beautiful than the Sun, and a bag worn with the use of money has more beautiful proportions than a vine filled with grapes. The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity, and by these I shall not regulate my proportions; and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself. As a man is, so he sees." William Blake
Larry Lubin (NYC)
Poor David Brooks. Totally perplexed about how all this came about. I guess income and wealth inequality just magically happened. It couldn’t possibly be the result of the policies of the politicians who David touted. Laffer curve anyone?
firlfriend (usa)
This is due to the people that are saying people will be replaced.
RB (Chicagoland)
This is because we're constantly bombarded by the message to be discontent, dissatisfied, and outraged by whatever is our current lot in life. We need to acquire that next shiny object, raise ourselves to the higher levels, and to expect saintly behavior from our political leaders, otherwise it's failure. The constant outrage is corrosive.
Brian (NYC)
This century is a lot happier than the last. We just know more because of social media/internet. This is good.
Miriam (NY)
If the emotional health of the world is truly shattering, the solution seems obvious. The top 20% happy-as-can-possibly-be demographic need only make themselves even happier by giving to the bottom, hopelessly miserable 20%. Somehow. As for the rest, the middling segment of humanity, find your own way home.
Mary Sweeney (Trumansburg, NY)
We have packed the world with more people than it can support while simultaneously increasing per capita material wealth, straining vital resources like potable water and destroying the moderate climate that makes a relatively secure future possible. On top of that we have not emphasized (and in some cases have actively discouraged) the things that actually make people happy--things like community, healthy food, parks and waterfronts open to the general public, sufficient time to relax with friends and family, meaningful work, sufficient time to exercise, pursue hobbies, and get enough sleep. We've fed and nurtured a caste system in which the vast majority of people labor extra hours each week at soul-killing jobs so that a tiny minority can waste resources on things like super yachts. And we have an information system that makes most humans very aware of the built-in inequalities in this mess. Gee, I can't imagine why we're sad.
Casual Observer (Los Angeles)
It's a Wonderful Life, reflected a time of extreme optimism about life and human nature. It followed the worst and most destructive war in history, and it was generous. There were intense debates over public policies but the opponents respected their opponents and candidly discussed what they thought without any concern about being dismissed as nuts by their opponents, or see them raise their backs. During his entire Presidency, Trump never uttered a kind word to anyone nor did he express any obvious sympathy for the losses suffered by anyone else. I never heard any pundit nor columnist every comment upon this total lack of human warmth.
Bh (Houston)
Mr. Brooks, I'll give you a hint: overpopulation, climate instability, wealth inequality...all the result of our "pro-growth" capitalist (or other) economic model that fails to place humans and our economy as a SUBSET of nature that provides such services as clean water, arable land for healthy food, climate regulation, and emotional/mental wellbeing in our biological natural surroundings. We are hot (and getting hotter quickly), overcrowded, and desperate on a finite planet with limited resources. My husband wants to move to some drought-stricken and fire-prone hinterland just to get away from the maddening throngs of people on this planet. The noise pollution, the water pollution, the light pollution, overcrowded roads, hate-filled human enclaves, the rape and pillage of nature and peace, the miles and miles of roadkill from "free market progress" eating up our beautiful landscape and wildlife, the fear my 80-yr-old parents feel when they refuse to leave their rural home without pistols, the cruel and rapacious politics that are swinging toward the authoritarians (your beloved Republicans in the US!) with no end in sight. I suppose my husband would rather perish from fire or lack of water than to tolerate what has become of mainstream, capitalism-hollowed, Republican-enraged America. Yes we are sad. And angry. And most days we blame that on the Republicans, their worship of corporations, their supporters. But we all go down together.
DM (Illinois)
You've just made a good case for the cause of the problem, negativity and divisiveness. This is not a Republican or Democrat created problem, this is a me-centric society created problem where we are constantly comparing ourselves to someone else and where social media and media in general often stokes the fire of dis-satisfaction with the world and one another. Every event now is dissected to find fault in someone. Suggest starting each day thinking about what you are grateful for and then move onto thinking about what good you see in those who think differently than you.
backfull (Orygun)
Gee. Do you think that the fear-mongering and hate spouted by autocrats abroad and autocrat-wannabes domestically, abetted by media (as acknowledged by this article, more so by right-wing outlets than those that lean left) has anything to do with global sadness? The majority of the world's population lives in the nations where perceived misery has increased and it correlates neatly with autocratic takeover, or drift, in these same governments. Statistically speaking, this alone may account for an increase in negativity.
ParentOfAdultKids (MA)
My 37 year old daughter once said: "We millennials universally understand we will not live our full lives due to climate change and pollution. It is a sadness we cannot escape."
Jackson (Virginia)
@ParentOfAdultKids And she is the victim of misinformation.
Glenn (Brentwood, CA)
I have often believed that while many of the causes you mention are valid, in this country especially, there is no faith in the future. If you are old enough think back to world's fairs, an event long gone, which used to showcase what a future might like like. Relentlessly upbeat with atomic homes, easier work, more leisure time, better travel options, future products, even space colonies. Today, there hasn't been a world's fair in decades because we have lost any optimism about our future. Crumbling democracy, fake news, income inequality, climate change, over population, wars over dwindling resources, and much more is what we now see in our future. While this negativity may not be the only cause, it certainly contributes to a sense of hopelessness for our grandchildren and planet, and percolates into our lives.
Steve (Nayarit, Mexico)
@Glenn I remember the World's Fair in NY in...63? what I remember the most was the GM exhibit touting the monster machines which would transfer the Amazon Basin into a tree farm, in one fell swoop. That's when I realized I wanted nothing to do with the technocracy. I became a small subsistence farmer, then a marijuana grower, then old and living down on the beach. I have only just barely maintained my sanity and happiness by emphasizing my responsibilities to my local community, clowning around a lot, and working for forest preservation. That, and strict adherence to the basic Buddhist tenets.
Leslie (Portland, OR)
I believe part of the reason for rising sadness and despair around the globe is the fact that we are jeopardizing our future as a species (and the future of many of the plants and animal species who share this planet) by not addressing climate change. If nature is healing to us, destroying nature is harmful to us, with dreadful physical, mental and emotional impacts.
Ward Jasper (VT)
When have humans not been sad? Life is full of pain and sadness . Happiness is rare.
Alexis it Doesn’t Have To End (Bunkhars)
@Ward Jasper WHAT?! Happiness is all around. I know many more happy, contend, confident people than those who are sad and depressed. At least here in America. Probably not in Russia or the Ukraine right now, but definitely here.
dmbones (Portland Oregon)
Human development reveals a transition period called "adolescence" between childishness and maturity where we move from individual selfishness to collective cooperativeness. What is true for individual development is also true for collective human development. This transition has become more obvious with communication advances that allow us for the first time in human history to see one another in real time. The collective "sadness" revealed in this article reflects our transient collective adolescence as we work our way toward inevitable collective acceptance of our profound one humanity. Cheers!
Russell (Culpeper VA)
Brooks is among the best opinion writers in the business. He makes me think. One factor he missed was for the rise in unhappiness increases with the rise in information we receive. I recall the adage, "ignorance is bliss" The advent of 24/7 news channels, followed by the internet has lead to a glut of negative information flowing into our brains. Count how many times the media calls something a "crisis" or an "epidemic" or that crime story runs for days. Its get eyeballs on the screen and our brains and hearts in the fear and sadness bin. We also are victims of "fear of missing out" and "comparison envy" when we see social media examples of people living their best lives, while we are not. Not seeing how others live their best lives reduces this Lastly, our expectations of life are not meeting our reality. I read the definition of happiness is when your expectations meet your reality. When we let the perfect be the enemy of the good, unhappiness is sure to take hold.
Casual Observer (Los Angeles)
@Russell The public discourse is emotional not rational. Brooks founds his columns upon sound reasoning, even when he is dealing with highly emotional issues.
Marilyn (USA)
I've been thinking this for quite awhile, and also believe we've created a loop, in a sense. The music of my youth was diverse, included the 40's, 50's, 60's, and 70's, and all the various genres along the way. While love songs could be sad, the overriding feeling of the mix was a solid enough blend of emotions, and mostly rhythmic and danceable, and therefore, I believe, happier. Our music in the background was exciting and varied. Today? Loud, aggravating beat that carries from the car to the pavement, angry lyrics. Where's the happy going to come from? I get the disillusionment, and now it's incorporated into the sounds of the music, and back, a despairing loop.
Bulldawg (DC)
@Marilyn "Kids and their 'music' today!"
Aaron (Orange County, CA)
Don't worry, there are millions of people out there who have no clue or care what's happening in the world. Let's be happy some people are happy, then all of us will be happy.
Valerie Elverton Dixon (East St Louis, Illinois)
I start my day with this verse from the Bible: " This is the day which the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it."(Psalm 118:24) Some days, being glad through the day is an act of will. I count my blessings and thank God, who I believe is Divine Love, for Life. I am clothed and in my right mind. I can breathe and feel the air on my skin. I thank God for every little thing. I thank God for the sunshine and the rain, for traffic sounds and bird song and for quiet. I thank God for the people I love and for those who love me. I focus on what I have rather than what I do not have, and soon, I am rejoicing and glad that I am alive.
Mark (South Carolina)
@Valerie Elverton Dixon Thank you for addressing life in such a positive fashion!
Mark (South Carolina)
@Valerie Elverton Dixon Valerie, thanks so much for sharing your positive outlook and approach to each new day!
YooperSkeptic (Marquette)
@Valerie Elverton Dixon I do appreciate your approach, and it may work well for many of us reading this. But you and I and most of the readers here are in the United States or other privileged locations. The worst-off American still has it better than a millions of people in India, for example.
leona (Raleigh)
I think we should recognize our collective grief as a way to help the world heal. We are all on a Mental Health Spectrum and need to deal with it in all stages of life and circumstance.
jjunger (OKC,OK)
I wish they would run the correlation analysis with the decline in the share of global gross product for the US. What I mean is that that decline correlates to America losing the post-war dominance it had after Europe and Asia destroyed themselves and the perception of declining status probably correlates to negative emotions even if thinking that the rest of the globe would stay in an emisserated state is not reasonable?
Mary Sampson (Colorado)
It was insane to ever think this dominance was ever going to last forever. Change is inevitable & we need to be prepared to live with it. I think that is a lot of our problem.
foco guy (Fort Collins, CO)
I am a mid-50s white male. I have a great wife, great (but sometimes-challenging) kids and a good job. I have financial security and health insurance, and can see a comfortable retirement on the near horizon. I am pretty healthy...I work out regularly (but I'm not nearly as athletic as I used to be). I live in a nice neighborhood in a nice town. I'm quite functional at work and home. Yet for the life of me I can't figure out why it is that every night for the last several months I go to bed and think "It's ok if I don't wake up in the morning." And why I think that when I invariably do, I wish I had not. I'm not a zero on the scale described in this column, but I'm nowhere near a 10, either. I am not tormented. I am not in emotional pain. I have no intention of taking my life. I have no need to and absolutely no desire to inflict that hurt on my friends and family. But it just doesn't feel like there is much more for me. I'm not sure what it is. Maybe my expectations are too high. Maybe I'm an ungrateful, privileged snowflake. I wish I knew what to do to be happier and the strength to do that work.
cclark (Florida)
I do hope you feel better soon! Maybe try something simple — I like going for a walk out in nature, breathing the fresh air, and looking for bits of beauty — a cloud, sky colors, a vista, or in a forest, an atmosphere, or maybe reflections in a lake. It’s quite healing going out of the human world for a little while, and the beauty you find reminds us that life itself is special. (Ps, you can do this in a car too, if you drive in the right places)
Laurie (Quebec)
@foco guy I know what you're saying because I'm the same age. I think it must be because there are no surprises around the corner anymore. We pretty much know what's coming, unlike when we were young and had no idea what exciting things were in store for us, which paths would lead where. Also, the fact that the news is so horribly bad with the climate emergency that's being mostly ignored--that doesn't help. Also, Trump. Even non-Americans are despondent by what that horrible person unleashed on the world.
erica (d.c.)
hope something particularly joy sparking happens soon! @foco guy
Paul (Brooklyn)
It's all relative. While we certainly have problems (number one being democracy under threat in America), so far nobody has fired on Ft. Sumpter (and gotten away with it) and 600k Americans have not been killed in a Civil War. Ditto for the world. Last I checked we did not have WW2 where 60-80 million people were killed and half the world destroyed.
F toki (Texas)
@Paul Key point being 'so far.' Too few living may recall, or have survived such wars, esp Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Such epic tragedies may appear as 'video games' to the younger.
Holly (Canada)
If the reports are true, that the person who attacked Paul Pelosi was looking for Nancy, then I just became more saddened by this world. I still vividly recall the mob tauntingly calling her name as they stormed the Capital on January 6th. So, has it come to this, beating an elderly man with a hammer so Trump that can be reinstated as President? Sadly, it has.
RFM (Seattle)
Rick you may have missed the point. Much of the improvements we need will come from good governance. To sustain or even have good government we need good people governing. Expecting candidates to risk their life and the lives of loved ones for increasingly dangerous public service is delusional. The hammer used on Mr. Pelosi was also used on all democratic citizens. A tragedy.
Guido (Cincinnati)
Leonard Cohen: "Everybody knows that the dice are loaded Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed Everybody knows the war is over Everybody knows the good guys lost Everybody knows the fight was fixed The poor stay poor, the rich get rich That's how it goes Everybody knows Everybody knows that the boat is leaking Everybody knows that the captain lied Everybody got this broken feeling Like their father or their dog just died Everybody talking to their pockets Everybody wants a box of chocolates And a long-stem rose Everybody knows"
Liz lemon (Illinois)
I remember people talking about technology in the 70’s and 80’s as the component that would bring down the world. I agree. Yes it has its wonders but are we more connected really? Technology has increased our ability to save lives but to also destroy them. I relish the days when everyone was watching Mash and All in the Family and talking about it. Now there is just too much offered and everyone is in their own bubble as far as news, entertainment, politics etc… I read a book called the Fourth Turning- saying basically every 80 years the world falls apart but this time it feels more exponentially worse due to climate change and nukes and disease etc… you can’t keep destroying your world and expect it to pick itself up.
Jim (Novato, CA)
@Liz lemon Yep, I read it also and it is scary how accurate their research predicted our current zeitgiest.
bob (ny)
Well done David and NY Times readers. This column stimulated some of the most thoughtful and enlightened comments I've seen in any major US newspaper -- and I read quite a few. If only doing something about it was possible.
Jean Cleary (Mass.)
The word "Populist" is always being used in the wrong context. The word refers to "someone who puts ordinary people's rights above those of the wealthy and powerful....... it is basically a a person who believes in democratic principles of rule by the people, freedom and equality., according to vocabularycom. The unhappiness quotient should not be surprising. It is because more and more countries are becoming Autocratic, Like the United State. Republicans do not have a Populist bone in their bodies. Nor do Kristen Sinema and Joe Manchin. And the worst of the bunch is the former guy and his cronies. They spend all of their time pretending they are Populists. If that were true they would be working hard on raising the minimum wage, instituting Healthcare for all, investing in Public Education, in eradicating poverty, protecting the Voting Rights Act and Affirmative Action, getting rid of those Supreme Court Justices who lied about settled Law so they would be appointed to a Life Tenured job, get rid of the Electoral College and the Filibuster. And last but not Least, ensure a Woman total autonomy over her own body. These are the steps that would be taken if they were truly Populists. So if we want to raise the Happiness quotient in our own Country, we need to get going and elect humane Populists to Congress
B. Rothman (NYC)
Did anyone else note that those elections held after declines in the sense of well-being had been recorded each resulted in the election of a government or a leader who did not help? So the situation continued to decline.
Kim (Illinois)
The quality of your life depends on the quality of your relationships. Tragically, various phenomena - e.g., social media, political divisiveness, COVID, lies and conspiracy theories, increased incivility, "woke" cancelling, and general "me-centrism," etc. - have converged to destroy or at erode relationships. I used to trust that in any given situation at least 95% of people would do the reasonable, pro-social thing. I used to think that people who disagree could have rational discussions and come to some meeting of the minds. I used to think that most problems could be solved through some compromise and caring. Not any more. Fundamental distrust now in my fellow Americans has caused me to be much sadder.
Le (Paris)
I'm bummed about the fact that big real estate is just destroying everyplace that once was beautiful, interesting and diverse - and our pols and regulatory agencies just encourage it.
Uzi (SC)
The world's view has always been in the opposition between a few wealthy nations and hundreds of poor ones. Mr. Brooks's article --The Rising Tide of Global Sadness -- is a case in point. There is no pandemic of sadness imported from the rich world in developing countries. On the contrary, the standard of living in those countries is slowly but steadily improving. Take the case of China. Perhaps, sadness is closely related to the relative economic decline of wealthy Western nations.
Sam (California)
@Uzi That's because all the MONEY is flowing from developed to the developing countries and all the CANCEROUS UNWASHED MASSES are flowing from the developing to the developed countries. See how this works?
NeilDSmith (USA)
I can’t imagine the life of someone in china or India so this idea of global sadness is irrelevant to me. I only concern myself with the welfare of those I know personally. After all is said and done, I can affect their lives - maybe. Everyone else is just noise.
Newt Weaver (Olde Towne, Ocean City, MD)
judging the state of happiness by the lyrics to pop songs,jeez brilliant.
Al (Suburban Phila.)
Gee, I wonder what happened? Scientists, Liberals, Intellectuals and lots of other ordinary people have been warning what will happen when we ignore environmental problems, societal problems, philosophical problems, and common sense, respectively. For 50 years Conservatives have been paying attention to demagogues funded by billionaires, while ignoring science, empathy, thoughtfulness and common sense, and voting for representatives based on the aforementioned. So we've had Presidents elected over and over against the popular vote, a Supreme Court handing down decision after decision giving power to those who use it only to take more power, while taking rights away from common people, and legislators who openly support disenfranchisement of voters and insurrection against what little Democracy we have left. The natural world is being destroyed. Freedom and Democracy are being destroyed. And the response of half the citizenry is to vote for more of the above? And the result is a mystery? What the heck is wrong with people?
21st Century White Guy (Michigan)
@Al What is common sense? We are living in the 21st century with brains that developed/evolved for living thousands of years ago. Common sense is the thing that helps me not fall out of the tree I'm sleeping in, or know that I should run from that bear. I know what you're encouraging, but it's not "common sense." On the clock of the world, we just started doing that a couple seconds ago.
Mary Lund (Minnesota)
Are Norwegians still happy? Maybe formerly happy people like them should be our bellwether. China and India are nor comparable.
Casual Observer (Los Angeles)
@Mary Lund You are referring to Danes, are you not? Norwegians are not the highest rated happy people as are Danes.
Casual Observer (Los Angeles)
On February 24, 2022 I perceived the invasion of Ukraine not with outrage so much as sadness. I have studied international affairs and I have read a lot of books and watch documentaries about wars and in particular World War II. I knew what to expect would happen. I felt sad not just because of the terrible damage and loss of life to come, but that it was utterly without any reasonable justification, just some foolish people trying to take what they envied. There was no imagined noble purpose, just petty jealousy by people who had failed to thrive on their own and coveted what others had. When Trump was elected by millions of Americans motivated by his expressions of fear and loathing reflecting their own, with not one life affirming statement ever uttered by the candidate, that made me sad. When the country refused to join together to minimize the spread of a pandemic which could overwhelm our medical care resources and risk all of our lives, by people complaining that cooperation would deny them their liberties and denied the public health experts were telling the truth, it also saddened me. I feel appalled to often and uninspired these days unlike how I did sixty years ago, when I was angered by racial segregation, the threats of nuclear obliteration, and intolerance of individual liberties for non-conformists. Today, I just worry about being rundown by some inconsiderate driver while in a crosswalk.
SA (Massachusetts)
@Casual Observer I feel the same as you do, only I'm more mad than sad. I don't know what the "top 20% of the world" means to David Brooks. I am far into the 'top 20%' in wealth, which means I don't suffer from lack of having 'things.' I'm pretty sure Taylor Swift is not lacking anything, either. I think David is turning this into a 'haves versus have nots' issue, and I vehemently disagree. There is a loss of the sense of a 'common good' that has occurred world-wide, but which I think has been far worse in this country. This is a sick country, and it's being made sicker every day because of our dog eat dog winner takes all mentality coupled with the outright lying and blatant hate-mongering of right wing media. Today, I heard that Musk finally took over Twitter, fired various executives, and has made Donald Trump very happy by so doing. The whole thing makes me sick to my stomach. People like Musk and Trump disgust me. They are egomaniacs who only care about themselves, and that people fall all over themselves worshipping them is incomprehensible to me. And then there are the fascist power-hungry people like Putin who live in some fantasy world and nobody stops them. The oligarchs who made oodles of money because Putin allowed it are happy to let him murder Ukrainians while they park their obscene yachts in the Middle East, another cesspool of intolerance. Let me just say it isn't only the 'have nots' that have had it.
Vince (Washington)
I can't read all the comments, but I'm surprised that among the top there is scant mention of overpopulation and its attendant anomie. Mix in the envy from social media and you have a recipe for dissatisfaction. Sure, the world can hold many more people, but with what quality of life?
Bill Robbins (Donahue, IA)
And it's not going to get any better with business as usual: Consider...climate experts warn us that the window is closing for humans to turn the corner on the climate crisis and the main driver of this crisis, human population, just blew past 8 billion and in 12 0r 13 year will go over 9 billion.
MBK (East Coast)
@Jackson Please please heed the experts. Granted, years ago they would suggest dire circumstances that never materialized. The difference is that now, we are living with dire circumstances. We are no longer assuming that bad things could happen. Bad things ARE HAPPENING. Not only are fear and hysteria warranted, we may need a good deal more before deniers understand the mistake they are making.
Betrayus (East Hampton)
@Jackson Some people thrive on denial.
Jackson (Virginia)
@Bill Robbins Climate “experts” thrive on fear and hysteria.
Overpopulation is at the root of many of our woes-climate change, intense competition for natural resources, inflation, anger toward immigrants, housing shortages, the list goes on. It's time to financially incentivize one child families, offer free sterilization, and give people a deep understanding of how overpopulation affects every part of the lives and our future.
Gina (Colorado)
Yes, I agree. Hence, India and China being the most unhappy in recent poll results. There are way too many humans on Earth.
David J. Krupp (Queens, NY)
@CJ Most of the 'First Word' has zero population growth. To slow the population growth in the poorest countries, EDUCATE GIRLS!
Steve Bolger (New York City)
@CJ: The value of everyone alive is divided by the number of people living.
Daniel12 (Wash d.c.)
The sadness of the 21st century? It's the sadness of the coming overpopulated ghetto world overseen and run by elite micromanagers who by science and art zero in on the optimal mix of pack of lies and truth to arrive at a pacified and controllable public. It's a world where a person's identity can be founded on next to nonsense but if it makes for a pacified human it's considered to work. But then again, hasn't this often been the case over history? It mattered little, for example, if a boy was considered a Christian because descended from Christian parents and was ritually mutilated (circumcised) so long as the result was a pacified human. The future promises all sorts of identity choices concerning race, religion, sex, nationality, etc. based on little logical foundation but as long as it leads to a pacified human it's considered viable. You can imagine some child whose parents are of different race, religion, and nationality quite arbitrarily choosing for himself his race, religion, and nationality out of the deal, and on top of that choosing his sex/gender and it all makes sense as long as it leads to a pacified human. Our lives seem based on so much bunk we have to ask if even the scientific truths we are given are carefully selected to not upset us. It will be really interesting to discover what combination of bunk and truth will result in the Optimally Functioning Human according to Big Micromanagement over the latter part of the 21st century.
julia (USA)
Thank you for increasing my sadness. I am determined to find some small reason to be grateful in spite of the darkening clouds.
USS Johnston (New Jersey)
Brooks will never see this so I will propose a simple reason why people are unhappy. There are just too many people on Earth. Today the world's population is 7.8 billion people. It was only 2.5 billion in 1951. A more crowded Earth leads to more conflict as people fight over limited resources. Add man made global warming that leads to droughts and flooding and you have less livable areas of the Earth.. And add to that the resulting refugee crisis that causes people of color to try and move from their failed countries into countries that have been historically white dominated. That increases racist anger. Finally, capitalism itself has failed the world. It has created an increasingly untenable and unequal separation of wealth as 1% of the people, aka the rich, get richer at the expense of the rest of the globe's population. So what are Republicans in America calling for in the midst of this population crisis? And end to abortions and maybe even contraception! But you will never find these ideas in a David Brooks column.
Nick Shepherd (London UK)
Good article, but I feel that it is more anger than sadness that permeates our world. We are disgusted by inequality, irritated by the loss of connection, angered by the global indifference towards climate change . . . We see that the world is getting better in the short term, but seems likely to get incomparably worse in the long term. And not so long . . . We are busy destroying ourselves, and we know it.
SA (01066)
If those creatures and species that perished during the first five Extinctions could have written about it as it unfolded, it might very well have read like this column and most of the comments about it.
Kimberly McAllister (Indiana)
Brooks has a point. There is a loss of community that’s taken hold in this country. He’s said this before, several times. It was true then and it’s become worse. Part of the problem is, of course, social media and the instinctive desire to say everything we think all the time – even when it’s a bad idea. It seems as if all we do is insult one another without listening to ourselves or anyone else. Trump is not an anomaly, anymore. He is a symptom of our narcissistic society and the self-centeredness that has overtaken the planet. However, Mr. Brooks always calls for religion to soothe us, when it is religion that has helped create this mess. One need look no further than organized religion to see that hating people because they don’t subscribe to the same beliefs as you do is a handy excuse to kill others. Organized religion has taught us to trash the planet, kill many of the species of beautiful living creatures and condemn others who feel differently. However, there is value in people coming together to praise an entity or a power greater than themselves and we must do that again. We have lost our way. We must love the earth and sky, the rivers and streams. The flowers and trees in the soil beneath our feet. The blood of millions of creatures is the foundation beneath our feet and it’s all holy. We need to find that holiness in ourselves, again. We should start by making the wealthy pay their share so we can end this resentment, rebuild and love this planet.
Robert (Los Gatos CA)
I hate to be trite. However, money may not ensure happiness but it sure helps.
Treetop (Us)
I came across this column just after reading about the very, very dire UN climate reports (from The Guardian, which gives climate issues a lot higher billing in the paper). After reading that, it would be very difficult to have an extremely optimistic outlook. Basically disaster and misery are baked into the environment unless there's a miraculous turnaround incredibly quickly.
Jane (San Francisco)
It's social media. In real life, a grievance-fest becomes a brawl and the police are called. On social media, it festers until voters elect a con man for president. A con man who calls people baby names and instigates a violent riot where police are tortured and other very bad things. And his party and voters still support him... this doesn't put one in a particularly good mood.
Madmax169 (DC)
Nobody can be surprised. We have so many people lacking any historical context or reasonable expectations for their lives - they are too smart for their jobs or to work, they don't have enough money allegedly because others have more, others with money purportedly don't deserve it, and winning consists of trending in social media or having your echochambered ideas increasing in popularity when, in fact, none of these people will have any impact on the world whatsoever. None of these emotions or thoughts can be the basis for long-term growth or happiness.
voyager2 (Wyoming)
You have made the case that the richest 20% are happy because they take great pleasure in knowing their ease is predicated on the misery of others.
Memfem (Tennessee)
I am an old lady and I don’t know how people got so unhappy. They certainly seem meaner and more selfish; there are certainly no more statesmen in politics here, just mean spirited liars on one side and nutty arguments about pronouns on the other. Maybe it’s too much personal technology and not enough real, face to face conversation. I’ll be gone when the worst happens, so I can only wish you well in trying to fix this mess. I do grieve for my children and grandchildren, especially the girls.
Ned Levine (Houston)
Well, with new viruses appearing almost annually (and not just COVID), with Russia invading a peaceful Ukraine, with refugees from various civil conflicts increasing by the millions every year, and with income inequality having gotten worse over the last 40 years (and not just in the United States), it is hard not to be worried and somewhat depressed about our future prospects. Still, so-called populist movements, which are nothing more than neo-Fascist political groups, are not going to improve conditions at all. They are resentful, jealous and only want to destroy everything that is positive in our world. The only people who will gain from them are their leaders. Destruction doesn't lead to new beginnings, but only to misery and even more destruction. In short, one must remain optimistic about the future and work towards building it. "Burn, Baby, Burn", while understandable, is not a mantra that I want to follow.
cirtap (Princeton, NJ)
2nd & 3rd world countrie's problems are extremely ingrained and complex. 1st world countries shouldn't try to re-invent the wheel. The Scandinavian countries have a high happiness index as well as relative economic stability. Let's do what they do. And please spare me the trope about alcohol & suicide. That happens in most northern countries with prolonged periods of darkness.
Comp (MD)
The torches and the pitchforks are coming, folks. Unfortunately, the Musks, Murdochs, Kushners, and Kochs of the world will jet off to their private islands or compounds, leaving the hollowed-out middle class to face the music.
kathleen cairns (San Luis Obispo Ca)
If the lowest 20 percent lack a sense of community, it could be argued that the emergence of Trump gave them one, even though it is ugly, ranting, divisive, and sometimes deadly. Many of these people, though clearly not all, continue to shill for the disgraced former president because they fear losing that community. If he has done nothing to improve their lives--or anyone else's--at least they don't feel alone.
Wang An Shih (Savannah)
"I don't go in for being sorry for people. For one thing, it's insulting. One is only sorry for people when they're sorry for themselves. Self-pity is one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the world today." - Agatha Christie
Off White (Washington)
It's all part and parcel of late stage capitalism.
Jefflz (San Francisco)
The faiulure of our educational systems due to lack of funding and The rising tide of right wing extremism would be a mopre appropriate assessment.
Barb (WI)
“Counties in the United States that saw the largest gain in voting Republican for president between the 2012 election and Donald Trump’s election in 2016 were also the counties where people rated their lives the worst.” Obviously the Republicans in those counties voting for Trump because their lives are miserable received nothing from Trump and his administration except boring rallies, buying and wearing Red MAGA caps, and appeals from Trump to send him money.
Rob Wilson (Norcal)
I'm pretty happy, actually.
Julian Fernandez (Dallas, Texas)
Mr. Brooks, Your party is fielding seditionists, traitors, charlatans, and fools in this midterm cycle and their only platform plank that I have discerned is "to end our democratic republic". And this is what you choose to write about eleven days before the election?
Jackson (Virginia)
@Julian Fernandez And you’ve got the Squad.
BJZ (Central California)
All you need is to be warm and dry and have enough to eat...A bit of wisdom on happiness from my son when he was in the army, (who was regularly cold, wet and hungry.)
donnie (colorado)
spend time with young children. rhey giggle, Sing, dance and cuddle easily. opens the heart.
Global sadness in continued pandemic sufferings and death of family members and friends is expected. Then came Russian invasion of Ukraine which catalyzed the global economic crisis. Rise of inflation and surge in racism have made America a very unhappy country. There is no light in sight.
Alex (Montana)
You know humans are a virus that has infected the earth and is slowly killing it, right? And we’re completely aware of this and can’t stop it.
John Williams (Petrolia, CA)
Just because the world is headed for a global disaster from climate change is not good reason to be sad, right?
wrenhunter (Boston)
"The negativity in the culture reflects the negativity in real life." Or, does the former cause the latter? Clickbait, FOMO, celebrity worship, right wing talk radio, Twitter wars, and so on. The Democrats wink at media and tech companies, and take their money. The GOP‘s answer is “aspirational capitalism“, just another goal 99 percent of us will fall short of.
thector (Puerto Rico)
A lot of us are really sad because we know the planet is burning up and we can’t get the other half to agree to take some action. The other half is sad because gays are free to be somewhat happy.
Doug (Wisconsin)
We live in a dense fog. I say people should have more loving sex.
J A Y (St Pete)
My partner commented the other day how proud they were of my attitude change, how I seem to be healthier in my outlook and in the way I comport myself. Oddly enough this was while I was finally paying off some credit card debt that loomed over me for years. I looked up at her and said you know it's hard to be happy and healthy when you have no money, the only thing that has changed recently for me is having enough not to be constantly desperate...and it's true, otherwise I'm relatively fulfilled but the lack of money was destroying me completely. It's inequality stupid.
Eva (NOLA)
People who like Taylor Swift make me sad.
ABC (Flushing)
Liberal media buried the story of a white nation picking a brown UK PM so quickly. In 1 month, UK has a female PM, black Exchequer minister and brown PM.
rpmars (Chicago)
Big Tech and Big P{harm and Big Business don;t want to address the problem because unhappy people CONSUME.
michjas (Phoenix)
When I was young, the choice to have kids was about whether you wanted to have kids. Now you have to factor in whether you want to bring kids into a world that may be on the verge of disaster. “Take a look around you, boy. It’s bound to scare you boy. And you tell me. Over and over and over again, my friend How you don't believe We're on the eve of destruction” —‘Eve of Destruction’. Barry McGuire
cljuniper (denver)
Yes to rising sadness. I learned about 50 years ago in environmental economics that the economy is set up to destroy nature as it "succeeds". I've been quite sad about this since, but am less sad when I work to solve the problem, which I've been privileged to do as a sustainability professional/economist/instructor. But have been more retired than not lately, and the sadness is much stronger when you have knowledge that we, humanity, are screwing things up for decades to come but you aren't actively working on solutions much. And most people including young people intuitively know we are screwing up but feel powerless to do much about it. Rebecca Costa addressed some of this in The Watchman's Rattle - looking at civilizations that have collapsed - they all reached a "cognitive threshold" wherein their societal problems exceeded their understanding of the problems or what to do about it. She believed we had the tools available to solve our sustainability problems but aren't using them due to various trends that keep us from being wise about the situation. I think most humans know when they are in a situation that's unsustainable...creating inner sadness. And I must add that it is appalling and uber-sad that our so-called civilization allows Russia to invade/destroy Ukraine apparently thinking they don't have to pay for all the damage they are doing? Because if they did face that, they'd likely not have invaded. We need to get the "civil" back into "civilization,"
Kevin King (Boston)
It's a lack of Love, stupid.
DavidB (Virginia)
I always highly value Mr. Brooks writings and attention to details and relationship of cause/effect. I suggest to ALL to do a daily read of David Byrne’s website: Reasons to Be Cheerful ( There is good news to lift many spirits. Also, I encourage you to support his non-for-profit site as best you can, financially. Go to “Reasons…” site FIRST in morning and before going down for the night. Spirits will lift!!
ABC (Flushing)
Liberal media buried the story of a white nation picking a brown UK PM so quickly.
The Iconoclast (Oregon)
Fearmongering – justified – can sometimes elicit a societal response called Chicken Little syndrome, described as "inferring catastrophic conclusions possibly resulting in paralysis". It has also been defined as "a sense of despair or passivity which blocks the audience from actions. The term began appearing in the 1950s and the phenomenon has been noted in many different societal contexts.
Newton Guy (Newton, MA)
I think we expect life to be easy. It never has been, but now we expect it. The gap between expectation and reality makes us sad.
John (Colorado)
Happier today than in 1990. Early retirement helped. So did marriage. Becoming a grandfather made me happier; those kids are great. More friends because of more time to cultivate friendship. Golf game is about the same, but more often in the fairway now than the rough. International travel made me happier, other than the time in the airport. Really unhappy with our politics. Preferred boring politics where Democrats and Republicans worked out their differences for the benefit of us all. Wish politics was more about governing than winning, losing and election denial. Don't need politicians who make me laugh. Need them to do their job. Stopped going to church with Covid. That's made me happier. Happy to be alive today and commenting on a David Brooks column. Reading Brooks makes me happy.
Merlin (Minneapolis, MN)
I'll just speak for myself as a window into the "why" of this essay. It's not every day, but many days as my teenage son leaves the house for school, or if I happen to be dropping him off that day, I wonder if that might be the day gun violence comes to our community. That's not living in fear. They drill for it and the frequency with which it happens in America simply makes it a roll of the dice with every sunrise. My parents have become full throated Trumpists, belying almost every value and duty to character I believed they instilled and set by example. They indulge right wing hysteria and conspiracies and live in a suspended state of agitation fed by the propaganda they consume. Both of these and many variations on the theme combine to create a sense of fatalism, if not technically sadness. You can carry on with your life and make the best of it but when intractable problems infect the very air you breathe and a sizable portion of the electorate is not only fine with it but celebrates it how can it not be isolating? I am deeply disappointed with almost everyone over the age of 60 in America anymore. The country looks and feels nothing like the one gifted to them and they are standing around shrugging their shoulders at problems they never dreamed of having to cope with. Many actively celebrate the division. I don't live without optimism but this is a dark time. 9/11 fractured the country and opportunists have been taking advantage ever since.
David (Washington)
Back in 1973 John B. Calhoun's research with rats might help us understand how we have grown more negative. He discovered that severe overcrowding of animal population produces negative and dysfunctional social behavioral. We are witnessing proof of his concept.
Isaiah (Brooklyn)
Keep in mind happiness and sadness are fluid and experienced by all in myriad manifestations day to day. The very richest among us may be sad due to health problems, age, stress, isolation, loss of loved ones, regret, etc. Wealth is not the end all be all. And likewise, those with very little may experience great joys owing to friendship, the depths of familial love, appreciation of nature, a deep love of God.
Mrs. M. (Florida)
I agree with most everything expressed in Comments today. I read Mr. Brook's column at 4 am, finding myself awake with sadness and a feeling of anxiousness (again), and I returned today to revisit the thoughts of Brooks and others. It's a lot, and it's undeniable....especially for those who seek to live with equality, fairness, and respect and understanding for others and the earth. I would add that we in America, and also the world, should not underestimate the lingering impact of the deaths of millions due to Covid......over one million of our own neighbors, friends, and co-workers. Add to that the needless and tragic losses due to addiction (here the deaths due to ensuing despair) and many Americans find themselves in perpetual mourning...with, as Biden often says....the empty chair at the family's table. Unfortunately, the hope that a Biden presidency might help to return and restore our nation to a time of more empathetic, respectful, and unifying discourse has been met with an impenetrable wall of ugly and dishonest resistance and failure, to the detriment of us all. With no end in sight.
Chesapeake (Chevy Chase)
When a world is full of many self-centered authoritarians who neglect the needs of our fellow-citizens. When they knowingly lie to them about critical issues of public health. When they identify 'the other' as an enemy in whom to be afraid. When they wink at the poor and the downtrodden and fatten their wallets and see to stifle religious freedom and pluralism. When they do all these things they break the human heart. Our hope rests in decency and the goodness of others and God otherwise we can look for more of the same.
Unity (Grants Pass OR)
Brooks completely sidesteps what I suspect animates sadness in our world today: Climate catastrophe. Much of Life on earth will no longer exist in coming decades. This collapse is happening right before our eyes, and so much more quickly than the band of scientists predicted. The fact is, we humans think we are the only important life on this planet… Our climate inactions may ensure that we are one of the few lifeforms left — I can’t Imagine anything sadder than that.
JJ (SFBay Area)
@Unity We don’t have to wait decades we are already suffering the consequences. I’ve watched numerous places I have grown to love, go up in flames here in Northern California. Do you have has turned what were once lush green landscapes to weeds and dirt. Those who live where the hurricanes strike have watched their communities demolished. I have read that Covid maybe just one of the first world white pandemics brought on by the changes in climate. I am grateful that I am older, I can’t imagine looking at the situation as a teenager or young adult.
KT (Westbrook, Maine)
I don't get what the problem is. Neoliberalism has won. Capitalism is far and away the dominant economic system even in places that are CINO (communist in name only) like China. Individualism, ambition and self-centeredness, that springs from this capitalist mindset is the ruling behavioral paradigm of the day. Everyone is tethered 24/7 to their little data monitoring work and behavior control devices. Don't worry. Be Happy. What could possibly go wrong!
reality check (nyc)
The people that set narratives and conversations and trends are uniformly from the ranks of the progressive left and they both radiate and wallow in unhappiness and doom and gloom. The religion of climate apocalypse drives lot of it. Focus is always on inequality not personal growth and progress and as the saying goes- to compare is to despair. How could i possibly enjoy a good movie or NFL game with my family on our beautiful new TV screen knowing that Elon has million times more money than we have and the planet has 12 years to go. Actually thinking about it, that 12 was 4 years ago so now it is 8. Maybe better pick a Hollywood latest on how unhappy, miserable and shallow people living in suburbs are.
Nick (MA)
@reality check Climate change = religion, yeah okay.
Tom in the North (Dundas Ontario)
Excellent article. I don't often agree with David but these stats are concerning. Most people simply want to earn enough money to afford a comfortable life style and have time with family and friends. Life doesn't have t be complicated but when you are working two and three jobs just to make ends meet there is not a lot to be hapy about.
Greg Gerner (Wake Forest, NC)
"The anger and sadness in culture seems to reflect people’s growing disappointment with their lives." NO! The anger and sadness in culture reflects people's growing disappointment with their governments; most particularly, their realization over the last several decades that regardless which of the Tweedledum Tweedledee duopoly parties win, their lives, their needs and their interests remain ignored and unimproved.
des johnson (Forest Hills)
@Greg Gerner: Who controls the government of the USA? The people or the uber-wealthy? Blame the cause, not the effect.
David (SC)
@Greg Gerner Oh, please, over the last several decades starting with Saint Reagan, every Republican President increasing the deficit they inherited and Democratic Presidents have reduced the deficit they inherited (including Biden). The MAGA Party has given us two unnecessary wars (unfunded) two tax cuts in times of war, the worst financial recession in our history, A 1.9 Trillion dollar tax cut bill for the wealthy and corporations and the worst response to a global pandemic of any developed country. And the MAGA Party's jobs record is no better. Bush, Bush, Trump created 1.9 million jobs. Clinton, Obama, Biden created 44+ million jobs. The Democratic Party has saved us from a Great Depression, saved the Auto Industry and the downstream feeder companies, the PP&ACA, the end of DADT, marriage equality, the Paris Accords, the Iran Nuclear agreement, 10,000+ tons of chemical weapons out of Syria, the end of two wars, the CHIPS act, the first physical infrastructure bill and the first gun control bill in decades, 220+ million vaccinated, the largest environmental bill to help address climate change and protect our air, water, natural resources. the AUKUS Submarine Deal, reuniting migrant families torn apart by Trump's forced separation, the PACT Act to help veterans and their families because of exposure to the burn pits, etc. So no, one party has delivered and the MAGA Party has done nothing.
Sam (California)
@des johnson The government of the USA is a seven-headed hydra.
JP (California)
I think that part of it is that we lead more stressed out lives. More of us stay up late while we are on facebook or our phones, and some of us deal with people who seem to expect us to respond right away when they call or email in 2:00a.m. The housing prices means that many of us lose many hours just going back and forth from work. Then we have people who work 60 hours a week because we don’t have a living wage
Patrick (Wisconsin)
I actually know the secret to happiness. Would you like to hear it? Have fun. Have a sense of humor. Modern life is weird, and it's also hilarious, so you have to let yourself laugh about it. Have children. Help them see the humor in life. Tell dad jokes. Conservatives seem to understand this better than progressives; progressives want to drain the fun and humor from everything, in the mistaken view that this will make people feel better. That we'll all be happy if our feelings are just protected from everything. But, that's not how it works. Laughing makes you happy. Laughing creates bonds with other people. Laugh at yourself, laugh at the world. Be silly. Poke at taboos. The darker the subject matter, the greater possibilities. We can't all be humorless saints and ascetics; I'm sorry that the world of cars and take-put and Netflix is just... too... much for some people, but that's not my problem, and I think that's funny too. The corollary, of course, is that the best way to alienate and repel people is to ban humor, as the Democrats are coming to learn.
Me again (Vermont)
@Patrick Please explain, with even a shred of evidence, your claim that Democrats are trying to ban humor. This is as absurd a statement as I have ever seen.
clct53 (SC)
@Patrick You know what else makes a person happy? Food security. Being able to afford housing. Being paid a livable wage. Being able to afford car repairs, dental and other health needs. Being able to afford a safe environment. You might consider emerging from your bubble. Perhaps consider some volunteer work and get a sense of how the other half live.
Nancy B (Philadelphia)
Steven Pinker has been writing big books every few years that keep telling everyone that it's a rosy world: low violence, high prosperity, increasing happiness. Historians punched holes in his arguments, but Bill Gates thinks Pinker's books are swell and told everyone to read them. Meanwhile, the people who mostly don't read books by Steven Pinker or Bill Gates have somehow missed the memo that they aren't unhappy or hungry.
Avi (Chicago)
Read books by Mark Monson on this very paradox and why it exists
Nancy B (Philadelphia)
@Avi I don't think it's a paradox. I think Pinker is a poor historian and bracketed or discounted the evidence that can explain what the studies in Brooks's column are showing.
AKJersey (New Jersey)
So I take 2000 IU/day during the fall, winter, and spring. COVID broke the world. COVID disrupted the economies and the social fabric everywhere, making everything less stable. COVID caused worldwide inflation, increased crime, and enhanced paranoia and mistrust. It may even have pushed marginal personalities like Putin and Trump over the edge. At a time when we all need to be working together (on global warming and energy sustainability), we are all being torn apart. It will take a generation to recover.
JanineK (Los Angeles)
Pay attention to the last two paragraphs. These predictions will probably come true sooner rather than later even though I hope the author is wrong. Thank you!!
Pamela Gail Johnson (Dallas)
We incorrectly believe happiness is the byproduct of the absence of challenges or conflicts. When in fact, one of the keys to being happier is learning to manage our Happiness Zappers--the things that take away from our happiness--so they don't manage us. Then recognizing how big happiness really is. It's not not one monolithic feeling--it's the umbrella for many feelings that make us feel happier. As the founder of the Society of Happy People, I identified 31 Types of Happiness to help people recognize how vast and varying the feelings of happiness are -- everything from feeling relief to satisfaction to fun. If we want to feel happier it takes effort to find realistic happiness or what I like to call Practical Happiness.
Mike (Pittsburgh, PA)
If we are looking at a House run by Republicans and, God forbid a Senate too, the sadness quotient can go no where but up. The quality of the individuals that Republicans are putting forward, with very few exception, in terms of character, intellect, ability to have an independent thought is shameful. That they can get elected is cause for sadness. What they can do to social reforms that have lifted this country over the past 60 years is cause for deeper sadness. David, this problem ain't goin' away any time soon.
SnailScourge (CA)
Everywhere on earth humans are experiencing the loss of hope as climate grows more extreme, plastic and air pollution increase, water shortages grow, and the species we share our planet with and depend on to thrive diminish. Do we see "leaders" working to address these losses or not? Mostly, not.
George (Minneapolis)
I am not at all sure there is a "rising tide of global sadness." For starters, happiness and sadness are subjective experiences and difficult to measure, but if we pick suicide rate as the proxy metric, we see a global decline in unhappiness. Unfortunately, we are among the few countries where suicides have become more prevalent. The causes are probably complex, and everyone seems to have a pet idea.
Enjoy the kitchen (Chesapeake)
It was never supposed to be this way. I graduated from college in 1993. If you look around you don't see improvement. Nobody invests in the working class, workers are just a commodity to be exploited and disposed of. Job stability has been replaced by earnings. 30% of the population can't afford to exist, and it's obvious that "nobody cares" about them at all. There's no plan to help them. And I am an optimist. I am glad that I am not "that bad off".
Dennis (Oregon)
Thanks for this piece, David. It has been puzzling to me why or how so many people could find comfort with Republican ideas that are so cynical and punitive. I myself have found an antidote to this kind of despair. It is called buddhism, and it is not a religion. There are no creation myths, and it is completely possible, at least in my mind, to be both a Christian and a Buddhist. (When asked about the creation of the world, the Buddha reportedly said "What difference does it make?") We are in the here and now. Who else to take care of the things that make us unhappy than ourselves? The Dali Lama described Buddhism as "the science of the mind." The point seems to be to understand the truth, and most immediately our feelings by gaining insight on why our bodies feel the way they do. This is not an easy undertaking. But it is one that helps us live a simpler, humbler, and more joyful life, in an increasingly impoverished world.
Stefano (CA)
Well said, my friend. Happiness derived from acquiring things is transient. Yet we're taught to be like moths attracted to the razzle dazzle of the flame. The inner life is nowhere to be found in Western education. And religion has little to do with it.
Susan (Minneapolis)
I strive for contentment, not happiness.
Pamela Gail Johnson (Dallas)
@Susan Well, as the founder of the Society of Happy People, I identified 31 Types of Happiness and Content is one of them ... so maybe you're a little happy and didn't know it.
Seeking Change (Chicago)
Theodore Roosevelt once said "Comparison is the thief of joy". Any accomplishment or small joy can be extinguished when comparing to what others appear to have on social media. (People aren't posting about their failings.) We don't value the journey as much as the end result, the growth as much as the status earned, the wisdom as much as the crown. I think for many, our definition of happiness is skewed by outside influence. For those of us not truly in a place of great economic disparity or suffering, perhaps we can gain a little more happiness through a little less comparing.
Frank (Seattle)
Very good. It’s never been so easy to see how your life in a poor country compares to life in a rich country.
Robert (Georgia)
I learned years ago from a therapist I needed to make a gratitude list when I was feeling blue. This gratitude list could be a tool to use to show how good I had it when thinking I was missing out on something. It made me realize I had a lot to be thankful for and also how lucky I was in many respects.
Minneapolis mom (Minneapolis, MN)
If you want to live happier look at where the happiest people already live. Finland ranks number one in the world followed closely by other Scandinavian countries. Most countries that rank highly have done a great job of balancing freedom with equality. They all share a much stronger sense of community because of this. Contrast that with the U.S. and you'll find that we value freedom above all else, and that equality needs to be earned here. Within the U.S., democratic states hold the top 7 of 10 spots for happiness and Republican run states hold 9 of the bottom 10. Interesting data to take with you to the polls in two weeks.
Mike (Pittsburgh, PA)
@Minneapolis mom and yet, they still keep voting the people that keep them down in place. The thing I truly can not see past is how Medicaid expansion and healthcare for all is consistently voted down in these states.
Jason (Los Angeles)
GDP growth does not measure happiness. And yet our entire domestic and foreign policy is devoted exclusively to growing the GDP. Change is needed.
George (Minneapolis)
In my experience, relatively few people think (or admit) they are happy. Happiness is usually something they had in the past or hope to have in the future.
Gail (Pa)
I thought when I was a child ( I am 70 now ) that human society as a whole would learn from the mistakes of the past and inch toward a kinder more humane more peaceful world. I have learned since studying history that our species is a violent greedy mess repeating endless aggressions toward each other and consuming toward extinction what ever suits our fancy. So yes I am sad about it.
Margie Moore (POrtland OR)
@Gail - Human nature apparently is not meant to find meaning in satisfaction. Instead, the more we have, the more we want. And we want it now! That is THE fundamental flaw in humanity's existence.
Ginger K. (Oregon)
Every single person knows and feels the dying of the earth's ecosystems from our own hands, our own neglect, our own unwillingness to face reality. There is no way to not feel this legitimate grief.
ham (smithtown)
@Ginger K. pot helps
Former expat in Moscow (Moscow, Iowa)
Thanks for this very thoughtful piece, David. I'm 34 and have typically always been the optimist. Even at my lowest lows, I've always felt that my talents and skills and abilities would carry me through to better times. But now, perhaps because I'm approaching "middle age," I'm feeling incredibly tired. My career seems to be going nowhere, and despite multiple degrees, the walls seem to be closing in. I built up a decent nest egg over the pandemic but now it's mostly gone due to a new job I took 1.5 years ago in an expensive city (not in Iowa). I have practically nothing. My soul is weary. It doesn't seem like I'll ever be able to stop working or own a house. I work in media, speak Russian, have solid financial knowledge of trading and markets. I'm not a cookie-cutter, farm-to-corporation person and it seems that's all anyone wants. I've never been satisfied with the status quo and have relentlessly pursued things I perceive to be meaningful -- at times at the expense of more lucrative jobs. None of it seems to matter. And now that I'm approaching 35, I feel tired. I don't have the energy to pick up my stakes and start again. I simply don't want to work anymore, let alone go into an office. Of course I would for the right price, but all of the jobs in related industries are so seemingly low paid. It all seems to be a trap door. You might say I'm a disillusioned millennial. But we've had a rough go of it. The world is getting smaller, despite all outward appearances.
Doug (Wisconsin)
@Former expat in Moscow Find and spend time with people who agree with you politically and spiritually. Encourage each other and find positives in small things. You are not alone.
michjas (Phoenix)
I’ve learned from depression. It gives me perspective on happiness. The people Mr. Brooks talks about choose to see the glass as half empty. But depression is not a choice. It brings you down to its level, which is way low. Depression teaches you perspective. And when you’re not depressed you see the glass as half full because you’ve been so low that down looks like up. If you haven’t been way down you don’t appreciate the fact that kind of down, relatively speaking, is kind of up.
Doug (Wisconsin)
@michjas : Listen to the song "Heavy Balloon" by Fiona Apple. You will relate.
michjas (Phoenix)
@Doug Depression is worst when you’re young and are expected to be cheery. Fiona Apple was in her forties when she sang Heavy Balloon. Kind of a cliche. ‘Em Beihold is 23, when coming out is NOT a cliche. I prefer ‘Numb Little Bug.’
RW (Pennsylvania)
Strange. When I started reading this article I was surprised by the percent of people with daily physical pain-- by the end of the article, my back hurt. We are likely more influenced by those around us (and what we read, etc.) than we'd like to think. Our happiness would be much higher if we didn't read the news, but would it be a fake happiness of ignorance?
Alan Davis (Minnesota)
Ah, David! Ah, humanity! How can the low happiness quotient be otherwise in a world where 1) inequality is legion and 2) the unequal ones are well aware of what those of us in the top 20% have: enough. Nobody needs too much. All we need is enough. The idea that a mogul can play with $44 billion to buy a social media app while millions go hungry is an idea whose time has passed. If we don't redistribute wealth so that it does the most good for the largest number, so that more of us can say that we have enough, then we're done as a society and as a world.
David H (Northern Va.)
@Alan Davis "If we don't redistribute wealth so that it does the most good for the largest number..." I now recall that Nancy Pelosi could not bring herself to allow a vote last month on a bill to bar lawmakers in Congress or their family members from trading individual stocks. (Link below.) Yet today, American consumers are watching their grocery bills increase and retirement accounts implode.
katweetie (Maine)
Social media has to be included in the list of drivers for these trends. Comparison to one's neighbors is the most essential benchmark by which people just 'how am I doing?' Those neighbors used to be people with similar circumstances, whose warts we could also see. With the advent of social media, people can compare themselves to the whole world, polished visions of people with vastly different circumstances, and all of a sudden, what was ok before now looks miserable. This is a huge driver of unhapiness.
Ned Levine (Houston)
@katweetie: Social media barely existed 20 years ago. The trends that Brooks and others talk about started back in 1960s. The increasing negativity is more systemic than just social media (though that clearly contributes to it).
Sarah (USA)
This is why every therapist's practice is as overwhelmed by new client inquiries as mine is. And these inquiries only represent a small sector of society: those with the means and wherewithal to seek counseling support.
Lampyris (USA)
We have a trimodal distribution of happiness due to inequities of our governance and economic situation . This is not sustainable, and we should get away from it as soon as possible. A natural distribution is a normal distribution. Good governance and economics should move us to a distribution where no one is below a cutoff in happiness, in as far as is reasonably possible. The averages are often misleading as measures of distributions.
JustMe (CA)
I thought this was a silly topic at first, but then thought -- How can I affect positive change in the world while feeling demoralized and despairing and kind of defeated by it all within myself? We are all going through this catastrophic time together. We need to stay at least somewhat happy inside if only to meet this moment with some energy and courage Thank you to all who replied
Stephen F (Seattle, WA)
Thanks David for raising and writing about this issue. I'm not sure what metric is more important and we're failing as a country and a species.
Daniel (Irving, TX)
I agree with much of the article and the comments. I would like to add that Americans see a poorer future for themselves and their children than previous generations. In the past 10 years, the biggest new invention and innovation has been the smart phone. What else is in the pipeline? Where will our new livelihoods come from? Then add political polarization and stagnation, climate change, and now inflation, it is no wonder Americans are more depressed.
John Ondespot (Ohio)
That's odd... the world becomes more miserable as America's blatant fake Capitalism infects the world, as the rich and the corporate harden their hold on systems of law, justice, government, the economy. As time passes and it becomes increasingly apparent poverty, ginned up conflict, violence, hatred are not problems to be solved, they are the plan. Things once representing hope and possibility, dynamism, fulfillment (America, again) have been turned on their head and become fonts of desperation and hopelessness. People like David say things like "misery influences politics" when it's obvious politics not only influences misery, politics creates misery, becomes a misery factory. There's nothing interesting here. There are only things people among the wealthy, secure, privileged (David Brooks) cannot be bothered to see... cannot see, refuse to see. Mighty pundits have taken up the bogus idea America's halcyon 1950s-60s were a daft aberration, a cosmic tease, not at all the run of history. We should relax and let it go. They're wrong. That, in many ways, is the way it's supposed to be. A people busy, productive, innovative, secure, successful. Not for nothing, also a people with a 90% top tax rate, a government economically, philosophically supportive of education and advancement. Corporations with the wisdom to bow to regulation. For all the, what we call today, undue burden on business we founded massive corporations and huge personal fortunes by the bucketful.
Richard Millhouse (Bklyn NY)
Women are still having babies in Brooklyn which really astounds me . That instinctual drive must be intense or they are not aware of the state of things .
OK BOOMER! (Glide Path)
Curious. We've never been more contented, more financially secure or less concerned with the likes and dislikes, the drama and depression, of Taylor Swift, Snoop, Ye, the NYT editorial board or just about ANY elected bozo in the land. The glide path is full of good food, good music, good weed, good guys and gals and absolutely no avatars of American angst. No, sorry; you must be invited to join.
Prometheus (Caucasus Mountains)
"[P]eople have always been very discontented with governments, laws and public institutions; for the most part, however, this has been only because they have been ready to blame them for the wretchedness which pertains to human existence as such” Schopenhauer
Ben W (NYC)
Too many people in the world, but think outside the US a little... many over-populated countries with a large poor population either won't allow abortion or if they do, hard to access for the majority poor. The best solution for a lot of the world's issues is to curtail the pace of world population growth. Abortions, vasectomies should be accessible to all the world's people ideally. We need to grow more food globally to feed the growing starving... yet oh, fertilizers, herbicides are bad. There must be a balance. Energy crisis, high gas/natural gas price. As seen with Saudi Arabia, all oil-GDP dependent countries are going to fleece the world with high prices while the oil party lasts, because in 50 years when the oil market crashes, they slide into dystopian failed states. Per Friedman, we need a smart gradual plan so its from oil -> sustainable, vs no-nuclear -> coal for the next 30 years like is happening now.
Mark McIntyre (Los Angeles)
Jimmy Carter once made a speech about "malaise" gripping the country, causing a firestorm. I follow world news mostly on BBC and there is strife and instability all over the globe from Europe to Myanmar. The pandemic disrupted everyone's lives, none more so than school-age children. Destructive effects of climate change are there for everyone to see. Putin's war has thrown a monkey wrench into the global economy and nuclear war is on the table. What's to be happy about? It's why Democrats should be worried going into the midterms.
Longhorn Putt (College Station, TX)
We're also getting older, and older people may be the unhappiest....absence of community or companionship, perhaps the most determintive factor.
Spain13 (madrid)
@Longhorn Putt Maybe. However most survey find that folks in the 55 and up age group happier than the middle aged. In fact, now that youth depression and anxiety rates are soaring, most in this age group rate their happiness higher than people in the younger age cohorts.
DK (South Delaware)
When yesterdays headline said the profoundly immoral Texas GOP leaders Abbott have allowed permitless guns for every one in Texas is horrible . The police say there are more spontaneous shootings and and deaths. How can the GOP be for the police when they allowed everyone to carry weapons without a permit. If this anti life GOP takes over the house ,senate and President they will allow this in all the states whether we like it or not.
Occupy Government (Oakland)
The saddest thing is you don't have to be good to be rich. And money is what counts.
Geri (Fairfield CT)
I am afraid. Personal freedom for gun ownership tops community safety. Lies when repeated often enough become “facts” that fuel violence. Public discourse has become hateful screaming and name calling attacks. The new normal has created bitterness and division that is so much more than sadness. It is a continuing nightmare.
Kathleen (NH)
People just want to matter and many fell like they don't. You don't matter when you don't feel safe--at home, in your neighborhood, in the world, or online. You don't matter when you don't have clean air to breathe or clean water to drink, or when you can't afford good food or the rent despite having a job. You don't matter when a job doesn't pay a living wage, or you can't get decent health care or child care. Or when you are just a cog in a big corporate wheel, or when you have no privacy left. You don't matter when you are subjected to ridicule or violence based on your race, religion, gender, age or political beliefs. You don't matter when money is the thing that matters more.
Johnny Woodfin (Conroe, Texas)
My grandmother was born before WW1 and lived as an adult through the later Depression and WW2. She often said: "We were poor, but we didn't know it... We thought we were happy... It sure seemed happy to me - growing up and all..." Show someone enough of someone else's lives, and it can mess them up... Someone will always be richer, taller, smarter, luckier... Enjoy what you have and what you can do. Grandma said that's how they lived: "Ignorant" - and as happy as we thought we could be..."
Jack Robinson (Colorado)
It was often feared by supporters of democracy, like our founding fathers, that the great unwashed masses would use democracy to “steal” the wealth of the plutocrats. Little did they realize that the opposite would be true and that the obscenely could buy control of the government and “steal” from the middle class and even frm the poor. And they did not realize the great depressive effect of our enormous and growing wealth and income inequality.
HJS (Charlotte, NC)
I have a deeply held feeling where sadness and helplessness come together. We can't rid ourselves of the Trump cancer. Merrick Garland personifies the impotence of our government to uphold the law. Herschel Walker, a football player who can't string two coherent sentences together, will likely be the next senator from Georgia. Dr. Oz, a crackpot TV doctor, may become the next senator from Pennsylvania. Blake Masters, an election denying extremist, may win in Arizona. Kari Lake, an election denying, smooth talking TV personality, may also win in Arizona. Social media, with a gigantic assist from the right wing media echo chamber, is poisoning the country. etc, etc, etc. It's an awful feeling, it's only getting worse, and I feel terrible that my kids and grandchildren are witnessing in real time the destruction of our democracy.
Chris (MN)
Old wisdom says that ignorance is bliss. Our lives are a surfeit of empty information, and we are unhappy. We shouldn't be surprised.
Mytfinn (Northern California)
A tale as old as time. I don’t even want to read or listen to the news any longer. It just seems worse and worse and worse. None of my children want to have children.
Kevin (Tennessee)
@Mytfinn Well, to be fair, this started long ago. I am 55, and my wife and I are Childless By Choice - and looking at the world my 20-somethings would be struggling to live in, I feel vindicated in the decision. I cannot imagine how we would have managed to get them through college without massive student debt, or where they would live to be safe from climate change and refugee migration, crime, or homelessness. I see a declining environment with rapacious robber barons seeking their own fortunes and dynasty at the expense of the masses. What is there to recommend? I guess they might have had the advantage of their race, but that’s no guarantee when authoritarians march unobstructed through the political landscape. No, we made the right decision. We only regret that the sacrifice cost our parents the joys of being Grand.
Joyce (Richmond)
I have four grown children and zero grandkids.
Carlota (In the south)
@Mytfinn I have just turned 39 years old and am one of three siblings. None of us plan to have kids or "spawn a spawn" as we call it. Best decision I have ever made in my adult life. We don't miss having kids at all but do spend truly obscene amounts of money on our dogs and cats.
RonnieR (Canada)
People are living longer and the pain, malaise and loneliness that come as your circle of friends and relatives shrinks can give the elderly the "waiting to die" feeling.
Mo Moeller (Mesa, AZ)
@RonnieR What are you talking about? The malaise is across the board as we ALL watch our families split by extreme ideologies, as civility becomes obsolete and crass and hate mongering prevails, as we all watch helplessly as our schools and teachers are vilified, as we lose trust in one another and our safety is threatened more every day. No one group corners this depressive state; it is global.
To start with, work for peace, not war. Send diplomats, not arms. Feed people, do not kill them. Do not destroy but build. Go beyond partisanship and for solidarity.
Linda Hopkins (Minnesota)
Mr. Brooks, you remind me of some poet or artist who stands in front of a candle wringing his hands and saying "Woe is me". Once again, you choose to ignore the misery scale that enlarges when people choose to ignore solutions for climate change, political lying and threats of violence, and the cancelling of people trying to improve our lives. Is that because you think Republicans have the solutions or are you implying global sadness is a fad that we will snap out of? People get sad when their vote doesn't count, when politicians rage against other people in our communities, when governments lack the leadership they need to solve climate change. People are not dumb. They know their lives and the lives of their loved ones are in danger. Own up to some of sources that cause this suffering or just silence yourself.
Luke (Waunakee, WI)
Bingo! Finally, someone hit the bullseye.
Jammin' Joe (Ironwood, MI)
Bring back the Estate Tax.
I’m not sad. If you are, stop listening to the ads that tell you you can only be happy if you buy our product.
Karen (Bay Area)
@Quixote this column is not about individual sorrow, which apparently is not you current mood. It is about mass sorrow, a collective emotion which must be spoken about. A sad society can make very bad choices.
rackjite (texas)
And the existential policy of Brooks and all Republicans is tax breaks and deregulation for the wealthy PERIOD. To that end about 80% of elected Republicans will jump on the bandwagon of ignorance, intolerance, bigoty, racism, lies, conspiracies , Trump and raging hatred to that end.
Wild Thing (Oklahoma)
Maybe the few people who still answer phone calls from pollsters are the sad ones.
Blues (Ky Subscriber)
Yes sir agree with your analysis. Believe you are also bright enough to support a few proposals to ease the unrest as well Bret. Please advise as your advise would be welcome and respected, I do believe.
Blues (Ky Subscriber)
@Blues whoops David (not Bret)! :o)
Tom Hayden (Minneapolis Mn)
Perhaps, if you’re unhappy, truth is the first thing out the window.
James d Klein (Toledo Ohio)
It's the internet, stupid.
Times Guy (Chicago)
After reading that Brooks recommended TaylorSwift's Midnights as excellent, I decided to listen to it. It stretches the limits of credulity that Brooks actually listened to this and enjoyed it. Like trump, I want to see the birth certificate. Can the NyTimes kindly print whatever records exist that Brooks listened? I know that we can't verify if it's actually excellent. That's in the eye of the Beholder [David Brooks]. Hard to fathom somehow.
RW (Pennsylvania)
@Times Guy Millions of people are enjoying the album. If you don't like it, maybe it's not the album's fault.
Not mentioned in the piece: A growing dread of the future. I'm old enough that I won't have to face many of the near-inevitable horrors of the coming century. If I were younger, I certainly would want to bring children into a world facing devastating climate change, ecological catastrophe, mass extinctions, medically and environmentally disfiguring pollution, ever-more-radical political extremists, etc.
Jack Lee (Santa Fe)
Sadness isn't a "negative" emotion. It's the idea that such emotions are wrong or bad that gives them greater power and turns them into emotions like depression. Feelings are just feelings, and the more we can simply not be attached to them either way the better. It's an absurdity to think that sadness or grief will never affect us, so why talk of such things as being "negative"? You may as well grieve the sun because it's raining. The real trick is to embrace sadness, and even wallow in it for a time. As the saying goes, "this too shall pass". Truth is, not only do individuals pass through the gamut and spectrum of emotions, but societies do, too. We need to expect times of sorrow, sadness and depression: they will happen; if not now, eventually. And in time, the cycle turns and joy and lightness return. The world may be heading towards difficult and painful times. We can hope it won't, but it has to happen sooner or later, and the more we can be philosophical about such things the better it'll be for all of us.
PHood (Maine)
I wonder how hyperbole plays into these answers. Everything we read or hear is stated in an exhausting torrent of polarization. Can we even trust how we articulate (or respond to a survey) on our emotional well being without being hyperbolic?
John D (San Diego)
Not surprised to see the overall increase in negativity and sadness as the nation grows more "progressive." Seems the solution may be worse than the problem.
JFJ (Takoma Park MD)
Step One: "I'm sad." Step Two: "It's someone one's fault or something else's fault, and there's zero I can do about it." Step Three: "I'm still sad. In fact, I'm sadder." Later, Rinse, Repeat.
Todd (Arizona)
Thank you for this very important piece. Happiness is rooted in fundamentals. You don’t need much to be happy. The happiest time in my life was living in a tiny, furnished apartment, in a beautiful, walkable town in Germany. I had no car. I was in love, had friends, had work I loved and free time to travel. My surroundings were aesthetically beautiful. Of course, those without enough to eat, a decent place to live, or a safe neighborhood are going to be miserable. But for America, we have the wealth to provide every American with a decent, healthful, pleasant life. If we commit ourselves to the basics, we’ll build happiness. Roosevelt’s Second Bill of Rights are the way to do that.
Dan S (St Charles, IL)
We have a political party in this country whose policies have inflicted steadily increasing misery on the people for at least the past forty years, and which has learned how to exploit the people’s anger at this misery to seize power. No wonder unhappiness is at record levels.
Bill (Colorado)
Regarding pain, CBD is still illegal in our backwards country. We are so messed up, CBD could go a long way to relieve daily pain but it is treated like poison instead of the healing gift it is. Wise up America.
Cj (Home)
@Bill same with Psilocybin. if only their were something that has been proven to cure depression that's also natural and safe and been used for centuries......
Times Guy (Chicago)
When David Brooks calls Taylor Swift's new album "Midnights" excellent , he tells you all you need to know about sadness. Are we to believe that Brooks listened to the album more than once? If so, he didn't mention any excellent songs in particular. This has all the earmarks of someone who wrote a paper without doing the required reading. Does Brooks offer any evidence that the album is actually excellent?. When he listened was Brooks doing other things? If so, it couldn't really rise to the level of excellent. You have to pay attention. Brooks uses 'Midnights" as the soup bone for an article about sadness everywhere in the world. The New York Times went for it. How sad is that? Concerted effort is important in rising above anything, including sadness.Maybe I'm wrong? Perhaps Brooks listens to Taylor Swift on headphones and takes what he hears seriously? Maybe? Possibly? It really means a lot to him? If not it's deceptive to use the word excellent. Excellent things are excellent. They aren't convenient devices to write articles about sadness. C'mon man.
Daniel12 (Wash d.c.)
Here are the two opening paragraphs of a comment from a person named Randy Zauhar who commented here: "The top 20 percent of the world is experiencing the highest level of happiness and well-being since Gallup began measuring these things. The bottom 20 percent is experiencing the worst. " How are the top 20% so happy, knowing that the bottom 80% are so sad? Especially when they probably have a lot to do with all that sadness. Must reflect the sort of person you need to be in order to 'make it' it in the 21st century. I'd like to know as well as Randy how the top 20% can be so happy.
JFJ (Takoma Park MD)
@Daniel12 I'm not rich, but I do ok. I'm not sad. And I'm not going to pretend that I can't ever be happy despite the fact that there are people out there who are not happy. I'm not that into virtue-signaling. Life is too short.
RW (Pennsylvania)
@Daniel12 It was a poorly written/vague paragraph. If you follow the blue link, the "top 20 percent" doesn't refer to the wealthiest or richest 20 percent-- it refers to the top 20% of people in terms of the scale of happiness ratings.
Deb (Blue Ridge Mtns.)
@JFJ - Seems you missed the point - virtue signaling (?), by you or anyone else for that matter, has nothing to do with the state of anxiety rife around the globe. Neither does 'wokeness' or any of the other shallow isms that you've learned from Tucker. That, all by itself is sad.
Leland (Oregon)
The sadness comes from the fact that the world isn’t what most of us thought and hoped it would be due in large part to corrupt governments and individual politicians. In the United States I would say that Donald Trump has done more to divide our country more so than any other president in modern history. He has brought out the worst in people.
Deb (Blue Ridge Mtns.)
@Leland - And a the world's worst watch him do it, they're learning, and copying him. We're on a tragically downward spiral, gaining momentum as the people they target buy their snake oil, desperately believing the lies will bring them happiness.
SB (Sacramento)
It is the rise of hyper individualism, born not out of a desire to safeguard values but to assert me-ness, that has narrowed our sense of wellness all together. It has driven happiness to be judged on a comparative scale. Comparing is a big killer of happiness. Political wedges you see are also a byproduct of looking at others. Until one understands that happiness is a state of being, we will be wrestling with sadness and despair.
Kenan Porobic (Charlotte)
Sir, don't be sad! Take credit for it! The media outlets created it!
Juliana James (Portland, Oregon)
Wow what a downer this article is, I am responsible for my own emotions and I can do the self care necessary to feel good, what are these things I can do: go for a walk, the thing is you will immediately feel better, step outside look up at the sky, listen to the birds, Mr. Brooks you just added to the downer negative emotions doing nothing to help. Sad.
D (Long Island)
@Juliana James I completely agree. The last time I was truly sad, I lived with abusive family members that criticized every move I made. I left them behind and created my own life. Over the last 40 years, I worked a rewarding career. People in my life come and go but I've moved on to walking, bicycle riding, pickleball (yes!), and a book club. Happiness has to be worked at. After my family experiences, I had to learn to be happy. I scroll social media sites infrequently and never get jealous of others. Everyone has their issues whether rich, poor, or in-between. I seek out people that are genuine and that gives me the greatest satisfaction. It's easy to get caught up in a downward sadness cycle, but one can build happiness even if requires a little bit of work.
Oh Well (Plymouth, MN)
@Juliana James If only it were that simple. I walk every day. I also garden, read, and play piano daily. But I am still sad about the environment, politics, Ukraine, and many other things. This article didn't add to my sadness; it made clear that I am not alone in it.
JFJ (Takoma Park MD)
I wonder if we are collectively more sad, or just more open about and eager to share our sadness with the world through social media. I swear that a quick tour through Tiktok, YouTube etc. reveals that there's nothing that people aren't willing to crab about and there are no limits to what people will say if they want excuses for their lousy life choices and simply want validation as victims.
Tom (Show Low, AZ)
I submit that the success of the Republican takeover of America and the hate generated by Trump reflect David's point.
Peter Bernard (Detroit)
Perhaps we should all begin asking ourselves for whom do the columnist write? We have a socio-economic structure of Owners, Operators and Outsiders. The owners are a small inaccessible group, and the Operators exist to do the things for the owners that they cannot do for themselves—which is everything (they’d choke on their own garbage if there weren’t operators to remove it). The Outsiders are everyone else who don’t perform tasks for the Owners. Columnists, like Brooks, are hired by the Owners to keep the Operators vigilant about the potential of the Outsiders trying to become Operators. Brooks’ latest column is to remind Operators “be happy in your work—be happy that you have work, ‘lest you be cast to the Outside.”
Kim (Nehalem, Oregon)
Too Many People. No-one want to say this, but where I live it's become too many people. People are gobbling up everything in sight. The earth is being stripped and is suffering. WE CAN ALL FEEL IT!!! When do we start taking about too many people?
Mike (SC)
@Kim We love talking around that issue, don't we? It's the root cause of a huge proportion of the problems that this and other papers identify on a daily basis; climate change, unfulfilling work, out of control costs for housing, lack of opportunity..... And on and on and on...
Genia (Lake Erie)
It's the phones.
Thiru Thirupuvanam (Raleigh)
@Genia The phones are the consequences of the real thing "CHANGE". In the last 50/100 years we have gone from running water, to indoor bathrooms; from landlines to mobile phones; from a white America to a more diverse America. Internationally, China and India were agrarian, now they are industrial countries, and a lot of people are doing very well, but a lot of folks are left behind. I believe this much change in 50/100 years is too much, change should have been evolutionary - not revolutionary. When this occurs something has to give. My 2 cents
Bob in NM (Los Alamos, NM)
I suppose it's very unfair to blame Trump for all this misery. But I will anyway.
Beth (Colorado)
As part of that sadness, does anyone want to bet that an attack with a hammer on the Speaker's husband was politically motivated since a hammer is not the burglar's tool of choice??
Greg Hodges (Truro, N.S./ Canada)
Part of me is wondering if there is even any point of writing this. Beginning around 1980; I had an extreme sense the world had overnight becoming colder, meaner, more unforgiving, more extremist and narrow minded, more violent, and less Christian in the real sense that "Love Your Neighbour/ Due onto others as you would have done onto you" was somehow a thing of the past. The self centered era of ego, greed, narcism, where a dog eat dog survival of the fittest darkness descended like Churchill`s "Iron Curtain." The so called Reagan Revolution sent chills through my bones then; and it only has gotten worse since. His voodoo "Trickle down economics" of making the rich/ richer; and GOD help the rest has created a society where food banks; poverty, hunger, and deprivation has become THE NORM. And if you think that is all by accident give your head a big shake. The elitism of "right wing authoritarian fascism" is NO ACCIDENT. It actually began in the 1970`s with Milton Friedman and fellow travelers of extremist ideology that decided the era of F.D.R. to J.F.K. was destroying the W.A.S.P. empire of capitalism and domination that had made the U.S. an Empire; but was weakened by "socialistic" and Christian ethos that demanded fairness and humanity. No room for that in the world of right wing fanaticism. The U.S. must adopt a U.S.A./ U.S.A. nation of greed and avarice. That after 40 years meant all roads led inevitably to the likes of Trump!
Flatfoot (Macungie, PA)
Hmmm... Perhaps this is why lately I find myself scrolling towards the "bottom" of the digital Times, past the Trump, climate, politics and war sections in my search for even a smidgen of happy news. Unfortunately, my quest for something uplifting is often fruitless.
David (Poughkeepsie, NY)
You're basing your column on Taylor Swift?
MHW (Chicago, IL)
A massive number assault weapons in the hands of citizens makes me sad, as does a warming planet past the tipping point (rapid mitigation offers a wee bit of hope), an unfit criminal who lied about his election loss, authoritarianism, white nationalism, theocracy, and women treated as second class citizens.
Pascual Rodriguez (US)
Succinct and spot on.
Here is the title of another Op-Ed in the Times today. If this doesn't put happiness in a stranglehold what will? "America’s Teachers Are Arming Themselves. Should We Discourage Them or Train Them?"
Howard Eddy (Quebec)
Pollyanna is clearly having a bad day. Given what the GOP is running in the midterms, I can see why. Brooks must be really down over where his clan has gotten to.
Metaphysically Yours (North of the Vermont border)
I just don't know how to respond to David Brooks. The world is sitting in a pan of water on the stove and the temperature keeps rising. America as this old man remembers it is dead and rotting. Here just North of the border America is a sad joke. America wants to go back in time and if building interpretive centers for Noah's Ark is going back in time I guess we all know what is in store. America is for LOSERS. I remember our own revolution here in Quebec and what Quebec did to change into a society of winners. We didn't elect Snake Oil Salesmen we embraced the future. We educated our children we took hold of our future and America sat on its dung heap and complained about it fate. ONE HUNDRED FORTY THOUSAND PEOPLE out of EIGHTH BILLION? I know history, our expectations have never been higher and our leaders have never been greedier and more selfish. I understand David hating the face in the mirror. Nobody wants David Brooks' America.
Metaphysically Yours (North of the Vermont border)
@Metaphysically Yours I don't know how to put it better. I am a close to America as one can get without being inside its border and I am sore afraid. Ukraine midst the horror and destruction looiks forward to a better future and America gives us Brooks and Stevens. Our local bridge is lit up in Maize and Blue and nobody even knows what an Ann Arbor is. Florida is fighting an election over Venezuela and Cuba and everybody knows very few in Caracas or Havana want Miami or New York. They just want to determine their own destiny just like the overwhelming majority here in Quebec. America is no longer even an issue it has no governing principles it is no longer a sovereign state, it is an Empire with regional Kings, Barons, Clergy and temples. There is no America to defend for conservatives. Look at Florida . What happens when Spanish becomes the Lingua Franca. In case anyone wants to research the Fifth and final intolerable act and its meaning Miami is a good place to start. What was once upon a time a World City New York is a collection of small town and ghetto walls. I am very familiar with David Brooks NYC but I have seen outside the ghetto walls.I know the University of Chicago and its virtual reality. I know our people's history. When things get tough we have our spot reserved under the bus. Let us finally talk about our Crusades and Spanish Inquisition.
Dave (Michigan)
Apparently sadness is like the weather - everybody (particularly NYT columnists) talks about it but nobody does anything about it.
Well, where music is concerned, you have rap. Now that is some happy stuff.
Wolf201 (Prescott, Arizona)
Believe it or not, one little thing I’ve been noticing is the color people are using to paint the exterior of their houses; black. Now I realize that is not an earth-shattering sign of despair, but think about that for a moment, black?
Oracle at Delphi (Seattle)
You would be amazed how much happier you can become if you lower the amount if "media" in your life.
WalterZ (Ames, IA)
"’s human flourishing'..." Nailed it.
Mary Ann (in MA)
Reminder: Re-watch "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951). As the world teeters toward nuclear annihilation, a spaceship lands on the National Mall. Its occupants — Klaatu and his indestructible robot Gort — have come representing life forms on other planets. And they come with a stark warning. "Your choice is simple — join us and live in peace,” Klaatu warns, “or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer." Time to answer, folks.
JDJ (Bozeman MT)
Lots of commenters are focused on the social media cesspool. Here's an idea, let's do an experiment. Delete your twitter app and see if you are happier in the coming weeks.
SMS (Wareham Ma)
Don’t read the news anymore. Head for games Never headlines. I’m less incensed and depressed the rest of the day
R4L (NY)
You can thank Fox News, OAN, Newsmax, Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, etc etc.
JM (San Francisco)
Hearing that the filthy RICH got massively RICHER during the pandemic while millions of hardworking middle class lost their jobs and were catapulted into poverty and even homelessness. Everyday hardworking people are struggling to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads while watching arrogant billionaires bragging about their lucrative tax loopholes, waste BILLION$ to go on a 15 minute thrill ride to the "edge" of space and WORSE, throw hundreds millions of dollars at the absolute sleaziest, lying, cheating low-lifes in the world...politicians. NO WONDER GLOBAL SADNESS IS RISING! THERE IS NO HOPE!
Kevin (NJ)
David Brooks listens to Taylor Swift?!
Dave (Colorado)
Remember when we all thought that a connected world was going to be a good thing? Globalization was going to make everyone better off and social media was going to create meaningful connections between people far apart. Turns out that being too connected is actually far worse than being unconnected. All of this anxiety and depression began when we fell for the empty promise of macro-connnections - with ideologies and political movements - and gave up micro-connections - with neighbors and communities.
dontbeleveit (NJ)
It's surprising that overpopulation and the smart phone/mass media aren't accounted for. Not to mention climate change despair. Overpopulation isn't just numbers. It's density too. The planet got super crowded with lines and traffic jams messing everybody's lives. Cell phones while allowing to follow everything that's happening everywhere to everybody, they have increased anxiety. Suddenly, humans MUST check immediately whatever beeps and MUST respond on the spot. Not to mention facing facts in real time. And, last but not least, the ravages of climate havoc and its ominous forecast. No wonder we are nervous, sad, depressed or all together.
Vin (Nyc)
I think this global rise of sadness has a lot to do with the increasing digital nature of our daily lives - at least in the West, China and India. Simply speaking, mediating our relationships to others via screens instead of in person, is inevitably going to lead to dissatisfaction, loneliness and sadness. Humans are social creatures and it seems that the atomization that is the result of living online is not conducive to our mental and emotional well being.
Bar Belly (San Francisco)
Inequality is the technical term for our malaise but I think it skips the most important part. We have betrayed our own people so a wealthy few can live with ease. We have chosen to add incalculable stress to the lives of at least half the population. Mothers who work 3 jobs and never get ahead. Fathers who lose their factory jobs and can never again make a decent living. This betrayal for what is just an ideology (neoliberal capitalism) has taken a grave toll. It is clear that our democracy, which has lasted for hundreds of years, is threatened by it.
ham (smithtown)
A few days ago a progressive friend asked me how I was doing, and I said that all things considered, I was okay. She lashed out at me, gave me a list of all the reasons why I shouldn’t be okay, and how happiness is a sign of excess privilege. Happiness will get you cancelled.
short of time (North Carolina)
@ham wow, that is both revealing and familiar.
nerdrage (SF)
Have you taken a look at air quality in India and China? Add brutal heat waves on top of that. I'm not surprised misery is increasing everywhere but especially in countries where people can't insulate themselves from the effects of climate change.
Truth is sacred (Great Lakes)
Materialism rather than human connection and values go a long way to explaining sadness and discontent. I grew up relatively poor but had many friends, a loving family, and plenty of healthy outdoor activities. People try to find meaning in life by accumulating material wealth rather than loving and sharing life's bounty. I know a lot of wealthy people who are miserable and a lot of relatively poor people who have laughter and love in their lives. They don't live to accumulate stuff.
Todd (Arizona)
@Truth is sacred This is spot on. The pandemic was horrible, but many people learned to take pleasure in simple things; making a nice dinner, planting a garden, going for a walk. And just like that, it was over. Back to the office for no reason; forgetting the sensible, soulful, sustainable life for no reason other than greed and control. People are corked, and they’re going to vote like they’re corked. Unfortunately, the candidates they’re choosing are the ones who will make it worse.
Dave (Illinois)
In a certain respect I think the growth in sadness is simply explained. Less of our lives are devoted to in-person, very real connections that make us happy, and more is devoted to the online environment, which is filled with self-promotion, anonymous insults, cynicism, bad news, gruesome and heartbreaking videos, and lies. I'm not saying that the online world is ALL bad, but think about the happiest moments in your life. Did they ever happen online? And yet more and more we're letting this online environment distract us from our relationships with the people we actually see every day: our sons, daughters, wives, husbands, parents, etc.
Caroline (Rochester, NY)
David, almost every piece you write makes me think you should get it over with and join the Left! In my opinion, that is where you will find serious ideas about helping communities flourish and a more collective understanding of society. The hyper individualism of our super-capitalist system has had its heyday but I think everyone is starting to realize how harshly destructive it can be. We would be happy to have you! :)
Sandy Beach (Pacific Coast)
David, have you seen the story in today’s NYT entitled “The New World, Envisioning a Life After Climate Change”? The answer is right there in that excellent piece. Although a positive spin is attempted, the signs of coming catastrophes are undeniable. Everyone knows it, deep down in our bones and sleepless nights. As children of Mother Earth, we all feel her pain, even those of us who refuse to acknowledge it.
A Nash (Virginia)
On the contrary, I consider myself a happy person. I am aware of all the reasons there are to be miserable, but with my little bit of strength I have made a happy marriage, healthy happy children, and have a humble little home that to me is heaven on earth. We lived beneath our means thanks mostly to my pilgrim like spouse and now have something to give to others. Now we have saved for rainy days and have something to give others in need. Happiness, is a state of mind. I have willed mine into existence. The best things in life are free …if we can just find them and know their value.
spud (NC)
I think the fundamental thing we have lost is hope. Although belief is not far behind.
Daphne (Petaluma, CA)
It isn't a stretch to imagine what life could have been like before Pandora's Box of the internet became so popular. People who formerly lived relatively satisfied lives became envious and sad after exposure to celebrities' wealth. We saw angry people ranting on youtube. Where we formerly saw depressing things like wars on TV news, now we can watch them live. Children are bullied by strangers and used by pederasts they meet online, and we can't stop it. We spend less time reading or pursuing other interests in order to check our phones. Everyone can Tweet his or her craziest comments to the world and feel powerful. And the biggest and most dangerous fly to emerge is fanatical political speech.
Paula Adams-Dobkins (Seattle)
I usually love your material, David, but I don't know what you accomplished with this article, other than adding to the "sadness". You could have written something inspiring to motivate the spirit that built this country.
Bobbie Crawford (Detroit, MI)
@Paula Adams-Dobkins Would that be the spirit of genocide and slavery?
Dancing Horses (Bunny Warren)
The service economy that was promised to be filled with high paying, good jobs has turned into a nightmare for much of America. The middle class has been decimated by globalism as our good paying manufacturing jobs were sent to China for cheap labor. No healthcare, no affordable homes, and working two or three jobs just to make ends meet is the new “American dream”.
GJW (Rocky Mountains)
What I know for certain…as I spend greater periods of time in European, Scandinavian, and Nordic countries…I feel much happier outside of this country.
Me (Earthling)
@GJW I feel the same way with pretty much any country I visit outside the US but especially Scandinavia.
Pattycakes (CA)
@GJW I have experienced this as well. Sadly.
rms (Near Los Angeles)
@Me My husband and I spent a month living in Paris pre-pandemic, and if there was any way to get our kids to live there too, I'd be gone from the US in a nanosecond.
Steve (Paris)
The emotional inequality that Mr. Brooks cites in his last paragraph is more than matched by the world's economic inequality of which it is a direct result. The top 10% own three-quarters of all of the world's wealth while the bottom 50% of the world's population possess a mere 2%. How can one treat this as a purely cultural phenomenon and ignore the elephant in the room - a capitalist system that fuels inequality and misery and whose contradictions are now disastrously coming to a head.
Dr B (San Diego)
@Steve It seems you've forgotten that the inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.
Liba (Madison, WI)
I think we humans are the most "successful" but increasingly stressed and unhappy species that took over this planet. We did that by acquiring an amazing amount of knowledge and changing the environment to suit our needs. But we can't easily change who we are at a very basic level - occasionally kind and collaborative but also selfish and brutally competitive primates. The most brutally competitive among us get to buy Twitter. The meanest, most selfish, amoral primate got to be our president! Half of us elected him, almost twice! The cumulative behavior of 8 billion! smart, competitive primates produces many desirable things but what we do isn't sustainable. Some of us in the more prosperous capitalist societies live relatively comfortable lives but most humans don't. All of us are increasingly subject to the effects of climate change, environmental degradation, epidemics and mind-blowing inequalities in wealth and power. These are the by-products of capitalism, a system apparently well suited to our selfish, competitive nature that also gave us the iPhone. These growing pressures create stress and political divisions. We are looking for someone to blame and turn on each other. Politicians exploit our anxieties. But what if the real problem is our nature, that we are clever but unwise primates driven by self-destructive competition over increasingly limited resources who don't know how to stop.
Todd (Arizona)
@Liba Great comment from the great city of Madison where I lived a couple periods in my life. I am often struck by Native American societies who lived in harmony with the earth. Their societies were endlessly sustainable. There were no homeless and everyone was cared for.
Kingsley (Sacramento)
Connection Physical Well-Being Honesty Play Meaning Autonomy These are all basic human needs that were severely impacted during the pandemic. While the above maybe amended, it can't be ignored. Put that together with the fact that we feel losses twice as much as gains (loss-aversion theory) and it's no wonder why most of us are in a worse place. I'm glad there's art out there that articulates our collective mood-- it's a source of catharsis for artist and art lover.
Kevinlarson (Ottawa Canada)
Positive Psychology often offered as an antidote to the blues is entirely insufficient to address this problem since it reduced macro social problems to individual feelings. What is required is an sociological understanding and response to how history, biography and social structure give rise to such a condition.
Counter Measures (Old Borough Park, NY)
This article is perceptive in many ways! Just to add in respect to music, melody which in many ways is uplifting has been escaping the genre for many years! Additionally, we have gone from I Want To Hold Your Hand to words I won't mention here! Face it, The Gutter Has Come To Power, and it was sadly legitimized when Donald Trump became President!
Al Mostonest (Manassas, VA)
David Brooks has a certain genius. If you read Plato's "Myth of the Cave," whereby slaves are chained in place and forced to stare at shadows cast onto the wall by demons placed behind them, some of the slaves gain status and respect by commenting on the shadows, which they take for reality. The slave who escapes and goes outside is threaten with death when he returns and tells them what he saw. David Brooks in our commentator on shadows. He has a gift to put his finger on questions that are fundamental to us along with the ability to stir up interest. But he is totally hopeless at drilling down to an answer, a solution, or to organize a focused attempt at solving or assuaging our problems. Brooks could not read the "handwriting on the wall" with all volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary at hand.
opinionated4 (CA)
@Al Mostonest It’s unreasonable to expect Mr Brooks to provide a solution to the world’s problems in a NYT column.
bemused (ct.)
@opinionated4 Is it then unreasonable to ask Mr. Brooks to show, occasionally, an original thought instead of another exercise in collation? He does, after all, get paid for this shallow effort. I don't think it unreasonable that he is asked to do some work of his own instead of giving us a laundry list of other people's work.
Al Mostonest (Manassas, VA)
@opinionated4 Perhaps if you replace the word "provide" with "propose," "get behind," "agree," or "search for," then perhaps we could get somewhere with him. As it is, he just supports conservatism, capitalism, and smug urbanity while he shrugs his shoulders at all else.
Bill (Charlotte, NC)
Get a dog. Love it unconditionally every hour of every day. In return for your love and affection, the dog will give you happiness.
MBK (East Coast)
@Bill Can’t recommend this enough.
Pattycakes (CA)
@Bill Happiness and unconditional love, a sense of purpose in caring for another as well. I don't know what I would do without my sweet, loving girl who, though deaf and visually impaired, finds joy in her life and that joy translates to me. Lucky me to have a dog.
Deb (Blue Ridge Mtns.)
@Bill - Can I put in a word for felines? They too are very loving, amusing and shockingly intelligent (at least most of them). My oldest understands every word I say, minds, talks back and has great comedic timing. She's better company than some people I know.
nelsonator (Florida)
There is a lag between economic development and when people stop having so many children. Dividing a 20% bigger pie between 100% more people in many places.
tara (mi)
All interesting; however there are missing factors and correlatives. Lumping everything together sometimes makes the result meaningless: social class, income, labor security, health, climate & climate change, transience, age, education, type of governance, freedom to think and to look; and what videos these vast populations are exposed to and channels they're driven into. All mashed up. The media inflate unhappiness because it makes headlines and products. Love is a portemanteau that means nothing. Happiness is a state of mind that's been debated for at least 3500 years; and you may be happiest whilst lying in a coma.
opinionated4 (CA)
@tara Perhaps the dead are happy.
David J. Krupp (Queens, NY)
David Riesman is his 1950 book "The Lonely Crowd" and Robert D,. Putnam in his book "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of America" predicted this severe problem years ago. Tragically, their predictions have come true.
Johnny Woodfin (Conroe, Texas)
@David J. Krupp.. Nothing ruins a community so much as a lack of common interests. The rise of so many hate groups could just be need for, "Something to do..."
Wondering Woman (KC, MO)
So basically, as the rich get richer, everyone else gets sadder.
bemused (ct.)
@Wondering Woman A conundrum that Mr. Brooks has yet to unravel in his thinking or writing.
Roy Jones (Tampa Bay)
It seems to me that we can become, and often are, too removed from the rhythms of the natural world. We are after all animals who need each other. Every shooter is said to be a loner, every despot a wounded child and yet after millions of years we rise at the dawn.
M (US)
The darkness isn’t all bad. It means change is coming and there’s always light on the other side. So don’t retreat, resist, settle, cope or break down. Break through. Check out Zen and Vedanta for details.
Jim (Columbia, MO)
There is no happiness without sadness, in the sense that to open oneself up to feeling is to experience a range of emotional states. I think people in ways small and large try to anesthetize themselves - coffee!! - just to be able to negotiate life. Feelings can be tricky to navigate. I don't think Taylor Swift is a channeler of the zeitgeist. Rather, she's singing about relationships, and most of those have their ups and downs. Finally at a time when Biden and Dems have tried to alleviate some economic misery for those who don't benefit much from the GOP's tax cut for the rich panaceas, would it be too much to ask David that you give some credit where it's due?
ed strong (france)
Using a convoluted argument David Brooks doges the real issue. "We live in a world of widening emotional inequality." The real cause of widening inequality? To adapt James Carville: “It’s capitalism, stupid.” America has a particularly brutal economy. “Low-road capitalism,” the University of Wisconsin-Madison sociologist Joel Rogers has called it. In a capitalist society that goes low, wages are depressed as businesses compete over the price, not the quality, of goods. So-called unskilled workers are typically incentivized through punishments, not promotions; inequality reigns and poverty spreads. Happiness is working less for higher wages. What chance is there of that happening? As capitalism becomes increasingly ruthless.
WJ (New Mexico)
Happiness and well-being. Are they one and the same?
Theresa (Fl)
The negative headlines in the media are partly driven by the desire for more and more readers, followers and profit. Editors, tv producers and social media logarithms stress the negative and play up conflict. It's their lifeblood. The NYT headlines, for instance, used to whisper and now they scream. Only one factor, but adds to the climate of fear and negativity.
lance (texas)
Personal media has been a disaster. There was a time when you could leave work or school and get away from the people who made your life miserable. Now we carry them with us in our pocket.
Liz lemon (Illinois)
Look up how many people the Earth can support. We are in a mass extinction. We had a chance to rationally turn it around about 40-50 years ago but humans are vain, greedy little creatures that can’t plan for the future very well.
Truth is sacred (Great Lakes)
@Liz lemon You are so right. There are too many people consuming too many resources. We're headed for a fall.
Mark (Riverside)
@Liz lemon So what's your plan, are all these people just supposed to go away?
W.B. (WA)
Unhappiness is really nothing anyone cares about. They only care about "anger", which may be a step we never get to. "Anger" is tightly controlled, and feared. "Unhappiness", is when anger is submerged and then, everyone breathes easier. It is all relative. Today, you have to pay 4 times as muhc for rent as 25 years ago. Does it make you angry? No. It happens slowly, and so, never quite got under our skin. Are we at the breaking point? Obviously. But we prepared for this moment. By disenfranchising everyone and making sure there were no alternatives, anger has no constructive outlet. Heroin/Fentanyl is widely available. I clean up junkie shoot-up sites on my block. The local school readerbaord says they're teaching middle-schoolers "Empathy"... I'm not really sure how one could wield such a trendy, yet fictional ability, in a world where every other person's warm smile is brought to you by the pharmaceutical industry. Psychitrists, in this page, offer a Hail Mary: get a dog! Even though America is full of pets, mental health just keeps plumbing new lows. I submit the following hypothesis: Psychiatry is a scam. Hollywood and the capital of "music" (Nashville?) are got fonts of garbage. It began in 1993 when Kurt Cobain died. The suits thought they knew what kids wanted: manic depression and hyperviolence. Pain in the population is not surprising. The population is in steep physical and mental decline. In addition, most are boomers.
Giogio (Houston)
Your humble servant grew to adulthood in a country terrorized by a cruel dictatorship who tortured and killed people in the middle of an undeclared civil war. One thing I realized, later, is that there was a GREAT EVIL loose on the land. The characteristic of a great evil is not only what does DIRECTLY is that also encourages ALL kinds of indirect evils. If you belonged to the regime, you could not only kill those who took arms against you or protested peacefully but kill a business partner and take over the business. You could not only torture political enemies but appropriate their property and even their children. I worry every day that there is a great evil loose on the land and it is destroying OUR country FOREVER. Incidentally, slavery was another great evil, fascism, communism, dictatorship, etc. are all great evils too. No wonder we are sad and depress!
Bulldawg (DC)
I submit to you, Mr. Brooks, that it is many of the Republican policies that you have enthusiastically supported in the past that are making people in the US more miserable.
Hk (Planet Earth)
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. What does that mean? That we are all unhappy in the first place?
travis (NYC)
Why not be happy when you work harder for much less, everything costs more. You have the whole internet at your fingertips but are still empty. You are tortured by the media, and you watch vapid people rise to the top and then you try to follow their lead. Since the rich and power run everything they are really the cause of the mass depression. Didn't Monty Python say, "the beatings will continue until moral improves".
votingmachine (Salt Lake City)
Human primates evolved to cooperate in small tribes that they lived with for their whole lives. Modern life simply doesn't match human needs anymore.
Geno (State College, PA)
This is a part of a larger puzzle. Our discontent is being re-directed by a media that is owned by the very people at the root of our unhappiness - the economic 1%. So we're told that we're unhappy because of our neighbors. Their guns or their identity or their whatever is crafted into a paper tiger so fearsome that we believe it will destroy us. Why? Because those taking the true lion's share of the economic pie are terrified of what will happen if the hoi polloi come around to learning that their discontent has nothing to do with their 2A uncle or their lesbian aunt. Their sad state of affairs in fact has everything to do with an economy that's designed to crush the little guy and a media designed to fool him into believing some distant 'other' is responsible for his pain.
Peter (CT)
Yes, but the .01% have become so much happier it makes up for it. The wealth of billionaires has increased 58% since the start of the pandemic (1.7 trillion dollars!!) That kind of money buys a lot of happiness - everything from trips to space, to Twitter, to trailer parks. Just wait till the trickle down effect kicks in, everybody will be happy. Work, save, get an education, and maybe you can land a job as a caretaker on a nice estate.
Michael (Rockford, MI)
Overpopulation is the single biggest problem in the world. Way too many humans on the planet. Any possible solution is inextricable. But, “don’t worry; be happy”.
Mollie L. (Westchester, NY)
I am melancholy most of the time. Can hardly watch the news anymore. I am older so I will not be around to what I believe will be a bad world future. For that I am grateful as much as I don’t relish dying. How people can think so stupidly. I believe both the left ms right are too crazy. Moderation is the only way. Basically, if people thought more with more moderation there would be less extremists running for office and lying. I have no solutions. I vote and try to help animals. Otherwise, I am at a loss .
Barking Doggerel (America)
Not to worry. Elon Musk will fix it.
Moveyourbody (The World)'s bad news all day every day. And to think, just maybe there would have been a renaissance of man post-pandemic. Guess not.
JayG🥸🥸🥸🥸 (Brooklyn)
Two words: Social Media.
Danny, king of... (Corona)
I often find myself emotionally adrift. Emotionally impoverished by broader societal current events and by personal loss. I will be cast upon the burning waters of the River Styx or the Cuyahoga River before I vote Republican again. I do not seek nor fear populism but the evil of delusional humans confuses me. It seems to be an insufferable arc of unmeasureable length stretched eternally by fools and their gold and their Gods and their gullibility.
Kidcanuck (Canada)
A better title would have been "the rising tide of global madness" and it's brought to you by an increasingly authoritarian post capitalist system destroying the environment and crushing regular folks. Help stop the cancer. Vote for a progressive.
Edward (Wichita, KS)
Elon Musk just bought Twitter for $44 billion. I wonder if he's happy?
Jim K (Upstate NY)
I wasn't feeling all that miserable until I read this article.
Claude (Los Angeles)
As a 77 year old French immigrants, whose grandfathers suffered grievous injuries in WWI and whose parents endured the miseries of the Nazi Occupation during WWII, I can look at this situation from a different angle. Truly dire situations bring people together, while prosperity brings out our differences. But, I have been wrong before …
Trevor Smith-Brown (Ontario)
In a world of chaos we want to be able to pretend there is hope and someone is looking after us. Since we decided God was dead for much of the population the replacement of religion has been by a belief in economic and democratic liberalism. That really hasn’t worked out that well. Turns out the same forces that would take over and distort a religion for wealth and power are just as happy doing that with democracy and capitalism. And now you don’t even have the delusion of an afterlife to get through this one.
leslied (Charlottesville)
A white, well-to-do male of a certain age writes a column on "global sadness" when his cure was jettisoning his long-standing partner and taking a new one significantly younger. Isn't that what powerful men have always done?
Phillip Promet (Crystal MN)
"...Money can't buy you love..." [the Beatles]
Gary V. (Oakland, CA)
There are a lot of problems with not being a super rich person in America. You don't get excellent healthcare and social programs, compared to western European democracies is threadbare. Inequality in the Gilded age 2.0 is rampant. TFG's fake populism. which purports to speak for the working class but really only works for the super rich and uses cultural triggers to divide the working and middle classes. They use common tropes like crime is rampant, brown hordes coming over the border for the "replacement," CRT. Nothing that affects Americans in daily life but you get the drift. Inflation is a problem, can they do anything about it? :) "bupkis." The other political party is lost in the wilderness trying to figure out if it is still in the Clintonian/Obamaite (?) the right leaning new Democrats or moving further left to Progressivism. Under Biden the Democrats are taking baby steps to address inequality in the face of almost 100% opposition by the GOP. I see danger to our democracy if the GOP captures one or both houses of Congress. We may descend into Orbanism in 2024.
Alfred (Wessex)
Ascendant levels of depression and anxiety are quite obviously related to humanity's loss of religion and the resultant new, "progressive" "values" (which amount to a kind of pseudo-religion). History will call this era the Age of Plastic. Never before has humanity been so empty and confused. 21st century humanity is spiritually impotent and challenged, backwards, if not dead. All this material "progress," and yet utter spiritual decrepitude, emptiness, illiteracy. Plenty of studies show that the prodigious number of mentally ill, progressive adults thoroughly dwarfs the number of mentally ill adults who do not identify with the gospel of Progress. It comes down to godlessness.
Sam (Sydney)
Wow, from Taylor Swift being a bit edgy to world hunger to explain sadness. Broad canvas you have.
Gerard GVM (Germany)
There is nothing new under the sun, Mr Brooks, despite "what you say". Often, it has been our great poets who are much better at "measuring" the state of humanity than the pollsters you are so fond of citing. Here, our brilliant Wallace Stevens' "Gubbinal", a poem about to turn... 100 years old: "That strange flower, the sun, Is just what you say. Have it your way. The world is ugly, And the people are sad. That tuft of jungle feathers, That animal eye, Is just what you say. That savage of fire, That seed, Have it your way. The world is ugly, And the people are sad." The world is ugly, and the people are sad. But the sun is just what you say, Mr Brooks; have it your way.
John Ondespot (Ohio)
David you know what happened. You 're a big part of it. Why are people hopeless, enervated, without resources, hope, a future? Because you, your party, have finally, after a century of Herculean effort, made clear they have nothing to say, nothing to gain. They're here for the ride, so long as you let them, whatever they do turns to your advantage. Today, you have made plain they have nothing to say about anything. They cry out almost as one, for reasonable abortion, climate, financial, gun policies and you answer they will not, will never, have them. It does not work to your advantage, this peace and prosperity myth. The ignorant, naive, lazy, shiftless desire of a good life, healthy, secure, prosperous, tolerant, dynamic get it. Your problem is there remain too many who lived through the comparably halcyon days of last mid-century. Saw our heart-breakingly close approach to something sane, equitable, sustainable. Not worry, we'll be dead soon enough.
M E R (NY/Berkshires)
I lived in England for six years. But if the US becomes a fascist state (very likely) where do I go? Back to England? Canada (they don’t want us believe me)? What happens to Europe when the fascists in the US , Hungary, Italy, Turkey, allow Russia to march across Europe? Meanwhile after two months I still don’t have a quote to replace my collapsed sewer pipe that I have no money to fix and my homeowners is about to be cancelled.
John (LINY)
Well the spread of Republican thinking has certainly made people depressed and paranoid. The indecency of republican talking points and accusations of baby eating and total lack of humanity of anyone opposed. And it all started with “you lie” during a presidential speech…
Rachel (Ann Arbor)
It’s also internet, specifically social media. Now you have access to the “private thoughts” of millions of people. Some of which specifically seem to hate *you* and blame *you* for everything. Social media satiates our immediate need for entertainment, replacing true friends with parasocial ones. Social media allows you to compare your intelligence, your wealth, your beauty, your capabilities to the most qualified in the category. It makes you feel worthless. Social media spreads negativity and extremism like a wildfire, wiping sanity, collaboration and pragmatism away.
elJefedelaPlaya (New Paltz, NY)
The sad fact that the editors opted to use an emoji as the image to sum up the global depression says far more about our collective unhappiness--and the lack of connection that creates it--than David Brooks' well-researched essay.
Michael (Peterson)
And it's all about to get much, much worse. Fasten your seat belts.
Mathew Goodrich (Portland Or)
The shining light on the hill has become the flickering light of a dumpster fire.
observer (america)
We need to bring back the draft. Make everyone serve at least two years in the military, or in social service, and learn some community and collective responsibilty. No one should be allowed to go to college until they reach 21 years of age, after doing two years of national service. Then maybe people would learn how to take care of each other, learn to live around people who are different, learn how to work, and live simply. Learn what's important. And care about the country. Most people in this country probably could not pass the citizenship test that immigrants regularly study for. Most have no idea what's in it, have no idea how our political system works, can't tell the difference between the House and Senate, between a democracy and a republic. Most can't tell you when the civil war was fought, what Plessy v Ferguson was about, or Brown v Board of Education. America is a nation of privileged, spoiled, ignorant brats—on both sides of the political aisle—who care about no one but themselves, who are transfixed on their own images on their phones and in the mirror. Selfish, cruel and silly. No wonder we elected a malignant, pathological narcissist in 2016. He was a reflection of his generation, and the moronic celebrity culture of generations that followed him. This indulgence in trash culture has destroyed the country.
Paul (Greensboro, NC)
Scanning some of this data points to the rise of hate. Other good points, direct us to a lack of caring community. Yet, we have a Republican party that supports a Big Liar, reeking from rampant dishonesty while delivering a total loss of faith in humanity to deliver more promise and possibility --- for All people. Dare we mention the names of those who place themselves above all others. Yesterday, the world welcomed the 7th billion child. Restore hope? --- begin with a Restoration of honesty and dignity in all people.
Truth is sacred (Great Lakes)
@Paul The current world population: 7.98 billion source:
Paul (Greensboro, NC)
@Truth is sacred The report made yesterday on the news from India claims the 7th billion child. Who knows why a report could be so far off by .98 billion?
A F (Philadelphia)
Love is the answer.
Patrick (Wisconsin)
All of these NYT readers are so sad. Could it be... selection bias? Is it possible that progressives are sad, because their whole worldview is based on identifying and "calling attention" to inequality and misery, and elevating those with the greatest claim to victimhood? Hmmm? Life is funny. It's funny that so many people are sad, when the world is safer and more prosperous than ever. I hated having Trump as President as much as the next person, but if you can't see the humor in that, then you've already gone insane.
faivel1 (NYC)
Brilliant headline: The Rising Tide of Global Sadness I can attest that I feel it in every pore of my body. Here's another one: How Wisconsin Became the GOP’s Laboratory for Dismantling Democracy Republicans are trying to make state politics voter-proof. If they prevail, the next coup attempt may well succeed. By ARI BERMAN OCTOBER 25, 2022 Gradually, step by step and state by state the profound sadness enveloping country by country. That is a real disaster coming at the accelerated speed. We are already witnessing it all over. And BTW Elon Musk: Elon Musk Visits Twitter as $44 Billion Deal Nears Completion Elon Musk came from South Africa where for years apartheid was a guiding policy, now he wants the same here, he will bring back his orange BFF and will be spreading endless lies on this platform. People need to boycott twitter. It is a venom for democracy. This collective sadness doesn't help, it makes us feel helpless, we need to vote and fight to save this evaporating democracy. Democracy can't survive if voters dwell in a totally different reality. The inequality reached obscene proportions, the comment about Amazon warehouse workers was right on spot. Plus the dark money race to the top will forever destroy what is left. The fact that a gang of billionaires can flip the country to autocracy is in itself perverse. Sadness hangs as a dark cloud over the globe.
Brian (Fort Myers FL)
What the book, "A Wrinkle In Time" is all about.
SES (New York)
I lay some of this right at the door of the NY Times. I'm a longtime subscriber but recently find myself looking at a front page that works hard to stress the negative part of a story -- and just want to set it aside because it makes me gloomy. "Growth Returns to U. S. Economy, But.....". There's always the "but".
Sam (California)
The problem isn't inequality. The problem is there are no wise men bringing baby Jesus gifts.
C. (San Francisco)
Income inequality is a form of power, and we know... Power corrupts. Period. Unless we have a way to hold powerful people accountable or remove them from power, of course they will be corrupted and use their power in abusive ways. Humans have known this since hunter-gatherer days. It's totally predictable. If we can't reign in the power addicts at the top, they will accelerate destruction of our civilization and living systems. But it's not at all clear how to do that when they make the laws and can "escape" to anywhere on earth with impunity.
esyl (MA)
For all those blaming people for their own unhappiness: Let's not overlook that the article identifies 30% of the world's population as being moderate to severely food insecure. That's almost 2.5 billion people who are unhappy because of structural problems beyond their own control, and that number has increased by 560 million in the last 6 years.
A Nash (Virginia)
Apart from what may be out of our control, we can do a lot to achieve happiness by rejecting the material investments that drive debt accumulation. The very best things in life are free, and many with great material wealth have none of them.
Scooter (Los Angeles)
With a national election in a couple of weeks, I think it’s worth mentioning the 147 Republican Congressmen and Congresswomen who voted to to overturn the 2020 Presidential Election results after a free and fair election. Who knows what our country will face after two years of election deniers ginning up more distrust and hate, along with Fox News, and other media outlets, repeating the same message 24/7.
Maj. Upset (CA)
To be "Biblical" about this, the harnessing of electricity begat the electronics that begat the technology that begat the social media that begat a lot of the tsooris we endure today. I don't fear artificial intelligence as much as I fear emotional intelligence. Specifically the lack thereof.
Cate M (Midwest)
What would happen if everyone only spent an hour or two per week on social media? Or teach themselves a skill. Or read a few hours a week? Only buy what they needed. Cooked. Spent as much time in nature as they possible could. And ignored the noise? True revolution is not buying anything you don't need. Including the lies that abound.
Doug (Monterey, CA)
The breakdown of community into warring tribes is killing us. The essential concept of democracy is that people with diverse views can come together to reach a consensus that serves the society as a whole even though individual members of the society are not fully served. Implicit in that concept is acceptance of the consensus by all. Acceptance in turn requires trust and mutual respect. All societies have problems, yet successful societies work together and compromise to solve their problems while unsuccessful societies fail to do so. America today seems to lack the ability or willingness to trust or respect members of the other "tribe" (political party, ethnic identity, etc.). Worse, we're about evenly divided, as evidenced by a recent history of close elections. We have become gullible followers of narcissists who seek money and power (aren't they the same?) by further dividing us. Wouldn't it be nice if we could begin to listen to each other and question what's fed to us by the media and politicians? If not, how will it get better?
WTig3ner (CA)
Mr. Brooks highlights one aspect of the problem, and an important one. But our species as a whole, across the globe, is busily engaged in demonstrating Darwin's fundamental principle: that only the fittest survive. And I'm not talking merely about those at the top of the happiness chart. Our species is showing that it is not fit to survive.
Scott (Pdx)
@WTig3ner I’d say the seven billion or whatever number of humans on this planet prove you wrong. Humans are masters of survival; but, like many bacteria and parasites, I do think our success might ultimately kill our host. Then we’re doomed, but at least earth will rise again.
Susanna (United States)
The Pandemic. Routines that we used to enjoy…like grocery shopping…have become a dreaded chore. But mostly we miss our friends and family, holiday and birthday gatherings, the farmer’s market, restaurants, travel. The Pandemic has stolen our quality of life, our time. And time is on the wing.
AKG (Right Here)
How can this be connected to a lack or a change in personal interaction? Over the past few decades, technology has given people the tools to isolate themselves. We live on line, we shop on line, we order food through apps. We can order food at McDonald's through a kiosk while a person in standing right behind the counter. We use self-checkout at the grocery store so we don't have to deal with the clerks. The answering machine made it so that we didn't have to answer the phone, but still we had to call back. But now that we have computerized phones, we hardly speak to each other anymore. We text instead of calling. And when we do call, we hardly even talk. When is the last time you called a business and you weren't greeted by "listen carefully as our menu options have changed." Does everyone really change their menus every day? In the 80s the VCR made it convenient to avoid theaters, but even then you had to go to a video store and interact with a person. Now Netflix has made it so that we don't even have to do that. I like to think that interpersonal communications helps us understand who we are. It grounds us. A guy in a car will scream at the car in front of him in a way he'd never do in person. A guy online will say things he would never dream of saying face to face. For all the good technology has brought us, it hasn't brought us closer together. With our help, it has done the opposite. Sent 10/28 11:22 est (for my research of the NYT comment delay)
Malcolm (Reno, Nevada)
Do you want to be happy? 1. Disconnect all of your social media. 2. Get rid of the wireless in your home. 3. Focus on helping one person in some way.
DW (Brighton)
@Malcolm If you followed this, would you be responding here?
steve (Seattle)
Large numbers of Americans reported feeling lonely and isolated. This was before COVID decimated what was left of the nation’s community spirit . Human beings are social animals . We are not built to be hermits . Humans are built to directly communicate with fellow humans in real time. Research has shown the more people use social media . The less likely they’re to spend time developing strong relationships. Watch young people on a ‘date’ these days . They don’t chat to other . Couples are often staring at their personal phones. Think about it? In our super fast superficial befriending tech world where we thrive for immediate ‘ likes,’ on our social media sites . There’s a dopamine bio -chemical reaction. It lasts for only seconds Many then return to an empty space with only virtual humans ‘to play’ with . I would agree that food insecurity and lack of housing play a major part in the heightened misery index . Surely, our individual disconnect. Caused by our growing dehumanising virtual fantasy world of ‘friends.’ Leaving us less emotionally and socially fulfilled , depressed and isolated. This shift towards complete isolation; should be cause to rethink the question. Is having 2000 virtual friends really worth it?
Peter (CT)
Enough money buys health care, a home to live in, food, and a comfortable retirement. That being increasingly difficult to achieve is cause for a lot of sadness. We are headed towards a post-democracy future where most of us will have less money and fewer rights. The lies, the lack of accountability, and the assault on voters abilities to do anything about it are depressing. The possibility that in 2024 Putin, Trump, and Xi might control the world makes me grind my teeth. Add climate change, overpopulation, and extinctions. Not a complete list of things that bum me out, by the way.
Vic Williams (Reno, Nev.)
On the extreme end of anything is a terrible place to be, and right now the extremes are not only accented across media and the social landscape, they are often applauded. The cliff is closer than it’s been since the 1930s.
Shadlow Bancroft (TX)
"In the most recent survey Gallup found that 20 percent of all people are thriving at work, 62 percent are indifferent on the job and 18 percent are miserable." They pretend to pay us, we pretend to work.
Manolo (New York)
The human being in freedom has as a priority the primary instinct to conserve the species on the basis of his main tool granted by his God: Reason: Knowledge, common sense. God is the all, is Alpha and Omega. The future is to improve the natural conditions inherent to life in a maximum tone of harmony, according to laws contained in the "Constitution" whose purpose is the welfare of the human being, so that the Economy, which is subsidiary to it, -must comply with its natural purpose, regulating the corresponding; It is also subordinated to the laws of supranational organizations, which establish and are congruent with the fundamentals of the rights to a healthy life and its basic and elementary principles, and others contained in the documents and constitutive letters of supranational organizations, such as the United Nations, the Hague Tribunal, etc. , through the use of a Capitalism with social responsibility, respectable of the right according to the best western values and principles, such as the representative democracy, making use of the best of science to the effect, in order to reestablish the lost balance, and maintain it as a legacy forever, for the present and future generations.
Jim Madison (Philadelphia)
When we had 3 television channels that had less than 30 minutes of news once a day (including weather and sports), and the rest of the programming being short dramas, sitcoms, sports or movies, I think we were happier. Despite wars and the threat of nuclear war. Despite crime. Same with having one or two newspapers that most people only glanced through on Sunday. We spent most of our time at school and working, but most importantly socializing with family, friends and neighbors. Since 24 hr cable news, and internet "news" written by anybody who has fingers, we are bombarded with information every spare minute- mostly negative; much of it about politics. Politics wasn't such a big thing back in the day, because people had actual lives and were engaged with other real people. Want to be happy? Quit social media and abandon your accounts; stop reading the news on your phone and computer, and get a hobby engaging with other people. Volunteer for non-political causes. Exercise with friends not headphones.
AlennaM (Laurel, MD)
Much of this is social media driven. Most people now are much better off now than people were 200 or100 or even 50 years ago. But because digital media enhances everything both good and bad, people (especially younger generations) constantly compare their lives on-line to others, thinking that they are either inferior or superior. When everything in life is viewed as a competition it becomes exhausting, because you can never catch up or live that perfect life you think someone else has. "Our life is a creation of our mind" - Gautama Buddha
Beth (Colorado)
@AlennaM Yes. I'm staying in the rim of the Grand Canyon right now and I notice the unhappy faces are almost all 30 and under. They smile for a selfie with the gorge and then revert to the blank zone.
RogerC (Portland OR)
"Places like China and India have gotten much richer. But development does not necessarily lead to gains in well-being, in part because development is often accompanied by widening inequality." Mr. Brooks, it's not just inequality. Those places have gotten "richer" by spewing poisons, smoke and carbon pollution into the atmosphere and into the lungs of everyone. During my visits to both of the countries I experienced sore throat just by breathing outdoors. Extrapolate to the rest of the overpopulated world: Rising rates of illness, rising sea levels, water shortages, wildfires...if you are happy it's because you are not paying attention.
Annalee (Bay Area)
@RogerC Or you have enugh money to insulate yourself from all these ills, for now.
Marty (CT)
Recently I watched some YouTube videos of Presidents Kennedy and Reagan. Wouldn't it refreshing to see our leaders show some humor in their presentations and responses. Humor can lighten the mood - a good laugh, an unexpected smile, those wonderful laugh lines that epitomized Reagon and Kennedy could certainly help our global "dismal environment. Times were taught when these two men were president. Nevertheless, their humor gave us a smile and helped us weather the times. Instead of the gloom and doom prevalent everywhere - how about a joke, a humorous slant on our problems. PLEASE!
Gabor (Washington state)
@Marty A very recent president by the name of Obama was IMO much more charming than the two others you mentioned.
Cate (New Mexico)
There seems to be a direct correlation between things becoming more gloomy and growing access to means of communication that we absorb on a daily basis. I recall when my sources for news came in the form of one newspaper and the "nightly news" on television. That was it. I didn't have a particularly worried, distressed or expectant attitude about much of anything, felt that I could work toward changing the things in this country by using democratic means for improvement. The major shift in expectations about life came about during the Sixties--when the news covered the angry, fist-raised. violent actions and low-level anarchy promulgated by several of my generation--mostly the men. "Let it all hang out" was a theme at the time which, to me, even though I agreed with questioning and changing some of our societal "norms"--like war, discrimination against all women and people "of color", care for the health of the Earth, and so forth--there was no good reason for being so self-absorbed. It looked to me that dissatisfaction and disagreement about the "way things were" politically, economically, environmentally, socially and culturally were valid--but people, especially the young men of the times, were wasting their and our time with outrageous behaviors at the expense of constructing a lasting, durable method of change for the better. Today, that impatience, that same inability to form coalition, that same emotional addiction, has created a terrible sense of doom for many.
Things were a lot worse decades ago from world wars, depressions and going back further plague and short brutal lives afflicted with preventable diseases. These times are tough for many people expecting to live better every decade but many things have improved with folks living to 90 and poverty levels heading down. The price of gas and bread is not the end of the world and those issues will be addressed by the political class and electric vehicles are coming and war in Ukraine will end and restore grain supplies to the world.
AnneW (Seattle)
The two are related: Economic decline and unhappiness. Another key factor is is widening inequality. Beginning with the Reagan era, supply-side economics has predominated in America’s economically , politically and ideologically. In the forty-plus years wealth has concentrated, the middle class has shrunk dramatically and economic mobility is all but ended. Specifically, the costs of healthcare and education are extortionist; the financial system experiences routine collapses; taxes are cut for corporations and the wealthy, while public services are gutted. The consequent “negative emotions” are now being leveraged by the very party that was the primary cause of the middle class economic decline. It’s not a pretty site to see those who have been the victims voted to extend and intensify their victimhood. I see plenty more “negative emotions” when they figure out how they’ve been exploited.
Annalee (Bay Area)
@AnneW But will they ever figure it out? They had ample time to do so during TFG's reign, but now have simply doubled-down on his toxic messages of grievance with a kind of hatred directed at Dems propelling them forward, though not in a good way.
Tracy (Arizona)
@AnneW I've been waiting 30 years for them to figure it out. When will that day come?
Steve Bolger (New York City)
@AnneW: The US has been on a gathering slide since 1953.
Dasha Kasakova (Malibu)
TMI. The tsunami of information via internet, TV, antisocial media, has overwhelmed people. Governments don’t compromise, they conflict. Everyone takes multiple ‘sides’, the dissonance is astounding. Verbiage is couched in conflict, the war against this, the fight for that, who won, who lost. Elections are battlegrounds. Everything is a threat, everything else is hype, clickbait headlines, truth, facts, are individual, if they believe it, it is so. Dystopia isn’t in the future, it is here, now.
Winthropo muchacho (Durham, NC)
An portion of Leon Russell’s take on John 1:6, simultaneously prescient but ancient: … Well, I don't exactly know What's going on in the world today Don't know what there is to say About the way the people are treating Each other, not like brothers Leaders take us far away from ecology With mythology and astrology Has got some words to say About the way we live today Why can't we learn to love each other It's time to turn a new face To the whole world wide human race Stop the money chase Lay back, relax Get back on the human track Stop racing toward oblivion Oh, such a sad, sad state we're in And that's a thing Do you recognize the bells of truth When you hear them ring Won't you stop and listen To the children sing Won't you come on and sing it children Stranger in a Strange Land Leon Russell 1971
Me (Miami)
Pfffffl, nonsense. I, and most people I know, are having a ball. ,making money, traveling, being with family and friends……. Maybe you just doing it wrong? Life is great!
JFJ (Takoma Park MD)
@Me a lot of people just like to be miserable- I know a LOT of people who constantly bleat about racism, "systemic oppression" and climate change in between trips to Whole Foods in their SUVs. It's like being happy and satisfied is something to feel guilty about. I for one refuse to wallow in my own crapulence, as they say. I am going to be 60 next year. I saved my money, I enjoy taking vacations including overseas, and I look forward to my retirement, and I'm not going to let some harpy tell me that I should be losing sleep over This or That because How Dare I Not Be Miserable Don't I Realize How Awful Things Are?
John Tollefson (Banks Mtn NC)
Wealth inequality, like climate change, is a product of human overpopulation. Climate change will solve that problem.
Gabor (Washington state)
@John Tollefson Thanks for your insightful post.Right on.... Why is mention of the population disaster such a taboo subject?
Joe You (NYC)
Forced lockdowns Isolation, including for not-at-risk schoolchildren Fear mongering Shaming, and cancelling makes us afraid to speak up. We've diminished our freedoms, and our freedom of speech. We are diluting math and reading with social justice messaging. Our minds are freaking out, but we can't speak up. Cognitive dissonance bends our minds.
Anonymous (Ohio)
The US Supreme Court is now stripping women of their rights to control their own bodies. That might be a contributing factor don’t you think? It certainly is for me. *Sigh* I remember what is was like when I was respected as an autonomous human being and not patronized and painted as a helpless victim of abortion propaganda that needed saving. Yup, that’ll drop your happiness score alright buddy
Steve (Charlotte NC)
@Anonymous Fascism makes no one happy. Even the Fascists. It's a dead end.
MarkB (PDX)
Paging Nick Kristoff! This is too bleak to read first thing in the morning. We need either balance or answers, not just sophomoric hand-wringing.
AnneW (Seattle)
@MarkB Watch a popular entertainment-faux news cable channel to get “balance and answers”. But they may not mention the last Republican President: 1 Increased national debt by $ 7,000,00,000,000. 2 Left office with fewer Americans employed than when he started (only Herbert/Hoover matched this record). 3. America’s trade deficit increased, not decreased. 4 American global credibility and trustworthiness at all time low. 5 Citizens could hear their President lie every 68 minutes* These contributed to our economic decline and “negative feelings”. Watch a popular entertainment and faux news cable channel for “answers”. *Donald lied 30,573 over four years , that's 21 lies per day or one lie every sixty-eight minutes.
Kat (Austin, TX)
Sobering statistics. I am not as happy as I was 20 years ago, no doubt I'm approaching old age and it scares me, but also as I strived as a young woman for peace in this world, to jettison racism (what a joke it seems to me today), dream world faded from view. I've had 2 hips replaced and one shoulder and live in pain from osteoarthritis in my other shoulder, toes, etc. The future looks dim for my granddaughter, as a woman someday I wonder, will she be popping 'milltowns' and having 4 kids and a zero life like my mother, this thought just scares the bejesus out of me, but I have no control, I liked my world so much better, hopefully as she ages she will find that that joie de vivre that I had, I won't know since I won't be here, but I hope. It's a depressing world, billionaires controlling us, I cannot think of one thing that is positive about my country, my state is horrible, or the world. It's a horrible place in this world of ours.
Steve (Charlotte NC)
@Kat "...I'm approaching old age and it scares me.." Take joy in that you have lived long and conscientiously.
Hk (Planet Earth)
Something is very wrong when just a handful of people - Putin, Jinping, Assad, Kim Jong-un and Khamenie - are responsible for so much sadness in the world.
Joinery Piling Up (Charlottesville)
@Hk Why did you forget to include trump and all his little sycophants?
Edith Fusillo (The South)
@Hk I believe you can add the former guy to your list of misery dispensers.
Marjorie (Charlottesville, VA)
"Misery influences politics. James Carville famously said, “It’s the economy, stupid.” But that’s too narrow. Often it’s human flourishing, stupid, including community cohesion, a sense of being respected, social connection." Community cohesion has been on the decline for decades, at least in the U.S.. Sociologists predicted it, along with the concomitant effects. It is sad. People seek cohesion and connection, and that lack has given rise to conspiracy movements and authoritarian regimes where people feel a sense of connection to others, a sense of belonging. It is emotionally satisfying for them, superseding rational or critical thinking.
Annalee (Bay Area)
@Marjorie Might what you say here also "explain" the devotion of the MAGAts?
Marjorie (Charlottesville, VA)
@Annalee Yes, I certainly think so. And, as has been previously recognized, QAnons as well. In my opinion, also many populist movements world wide.
two cents (Chicago)
Gangbangers are ruining my beloved city. Fifty percent of nightly news reports involve car jackings, innocents' wounded and killed by seemingly random gunfire, stolen cars driven through plate glass windows in crash and steal thefts and our feckless mayor and police chief do literally nothing to abate the carnage. For the first time in forty years I am afraid to leave my house after dark to walk my dog. We live in very Hobbsian times. Don't even get me started on the wholesale hate peddled daily by the Republican Party.
Cate M (Midwest)
@two cents My family ties go back to Chicago around late 1800's. They came for a better life and thrived. Good paying steady jobs, public education and neighborhoods that were a true community. Survived the crime waves of the 30's and civil unrest of the 60's. It seems the crime now is a result of decades of downward social mobility. Just like it is about everywhere.
Narcissa (Chester)
@Cate M Actually most cities are not having a crime wave, slightly elevated is as bas as it gets. Chicago and Philly however are exceptions.
two cents (Chicago)
@Cate M Cate, You are 100% correct on the decades of downward social mobility. We now have a permanent underclass. We have decided as a society to ignore that and to make no effort to fix it. We can fix the crime sprees. Swift and fair judicial process and incarceration when appropriate. We have to take back our streets for the security of those who respect and deserve law and order and the preservation of the vitality of a great city.
Jack (Berkeley)
We need to do better.
Paul (Greensboro, NC)
Scanning some of this data points to the rise of hate. Other good points, direct us to a lack of caring community. Yet, we have a Republican party that supports a Big Liar, reeking from rampant dishonesty while delivering a total loss of faith in humanity to deliver more promise and possibillity --- for All people. Dare we mention the names of those who place themselves above all others. Yesterday, the world welcomed the 7th billion child. Restore hope? --- begin with a Restoration of honesty and dignity in all people.
sunnyshel (Great Neck. NY)
And why is this, Mr. Brooks? Could it be we despise each other and wish those who disagree with us dead? What role has YOUR politics played in all this, oh great philosopher? Maybe I'm sad--I'm not really; life has never been better for Shelly and me--because other people appear unashamedly stupid and vicious. Seriously, how can one not be sad knowing 74 million of the voters who share their land think Donald Trump is fit to be president, that Mitch McConnell represents their values, that Herschel Walker could receive a single vote outside his own?
Helping Hand (Grand Rapids, MI)
Finally! Someone recognizes that the headlines I see in the NYTs and elsewhere are depressing, negative, angry, etc. The glass isn't half empty, it's empty, cracked, and crawling with maggots. I barely skim the headlines any more because it just makes me sad and I'm sick of it. There are lots of good things happening in the world. Let's go look for them and stop rehashing the bad stuff we already know about. Let's have a little balance here, people!
MD-1 (Charlotte USA)
Figured you had to mention Trump.
Dave T. (The California Desert)
Grinding poverty next to fabulous wealth. Media as playthings. Lies as brazen weapons. A great nation, bitterly divided. Ancient assaults on Jewishness, the LGBTQ, women, Asians, Blacks and anyone not ostensibly Christian white hetero male arise for a new era of hate. Wars simply meant to pillage and plunder. Grisly torture. A known climate collapsing. We have plenty to be anxious, restless, exhausted and angry about, thanks. No one is surprised.
Mike (Springfield)
Well, at least we don’t have God anymore to give our lives meaning…
Tracy (Arizona)
@Mike If we go back to the churches because we're scared and angry, will God forgive the Lying Liars who used our fear to drive us back in there? People left the churches because of disillusionment. The preachers are preaching hate, not "love they neighbor." One of the Ten Commandments is "Thou Shalt not bear false witness"--that means don't lie! Just because someone gave up church doesn't mean they gave up God.
northlander (Michigan)
Every non human creature knows the warning cry when a human enters the woods.
Times Reader 1978 (New Jersey)
As usual, the lack of any depth in Mr. Brooks's piece is striking. For example, he gives the statistic that the largest gain in voting Republican for president in the four years before Trump was elected were in counties where people rated their lives the worst. But he doesn't bother to posit WHY this might be. No mention of how a demagogue who plays upon his audience's worst instincts and fears and spews hate-filled rhetoric about others ("They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists . . .") might actually a big reason for their anger and misery. This bile might be making people who aren't really all that angry or "sad" think they are: "Wow, I guess I'm really angry and miserable after all!" Unfortunately, the pop psychologist who wrote this column won't even go that deeply into the issue. For example, if one were to measure the degree of actual "food insecurity" experienced by Trump voters against that of Biden voters plus those who didn't votes, I think it would be obvious who is really hurting in this country. There are certainly hardships among some of those who supported Trump, but that total doesn't compare to the poverty of those who didn't support him. It is grievance politics that Trump and his minions play, trying to convince people they are much more worse off and angry than they are. It's devious and sickening and disgraceful. Too bad this columnist didn't even go near this, which, in the US at least, is the heart of the matter.
L.Braverman (NYC)
It seems to so many that the various angry evil-doers have all the vital energy in the world, and that the rest of us are moving in slow motion while our world & future is rapidly deconstructed & stolen by the armies of "alternate facts": double talkers chock full of flim-flam word-salads and endlessly offensive lies... think putin, think trump, think Kim Jong-un, Orban, Castro, Maduro... think think think until your head explodes. That weight of all the viscous muddy lies & distortion weighs us down... The wonder is that there's anyone left at all on this planet-wide asylum who's NOT clinically depressed or on their last mental legs... except, of course, for the monsters.
DL (Colorado Springs, CO)
just wait untill Elon restores Trump's Twitter account. Then you'll see sadness.
Diamond Joe (New England)
Always so ridiculous to draw big conclusions about society by “analyzing” song lyrics. But of course David Brooks takes the bait.
Alan (Norwalk)
I have noticed this about love songs..hardly any compared to when i grew up and teens and twenty somethings are missing out on that catalyst to meet opposite sex..sad. Ii also nominate cable news for some blame..I was home one day and CNN had just one unrelated disaster after another..murders in Calif, Fires in Washiington State, etc. Gets one depressed
Bryan (Brooklyn)
I feel the NYT’s and other media outlets stir the anger. Too many opinions and not enough, simple, fact based reporting create that mood. Garbage in, garbage out. That’s how brains work.
Roman (Montreal)
Brooks discovers the world is unjust. I think he's fully deserving of his pay check. signed, one of the grumpy ones
Daniel A. Greenbaum (New York)
9/11, Covid, the war in Ukraine, the failure of globalism becaue of China and Russia and the rise of neo-facismists like Trump and Orban are all create are harsh bigoted environment to live in.
R. Daumal (Honolulu)
“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society” - Jiddu Krishnamurti.
Taylor Swift's mood began to harden after Kanye West yanked the Grammy Award out of her hands.
joe Hall (estes park, co)
If you don't have "enough" money you are less than nothing in the this country
ladps89 (Morristown, N.J.)
So the social scientists surveyed 150,000 of 7,500,000,000 persons on the earth; compiled data from American pop music lyrics; compared the feelings of well-to-do with the pain of the billions of less-well-to-do. and then, concluded in their select, biased, bubble-world opinion that humanity is unhappy. What else is new? Your sophistries are as appalling as they are numerous and useless.
RC (New Jersey)
We really need to hear from more voices. How else will we get a full picture of the state of the globe? Noam Chomsky, Morris Berman, Chris Hedges, Howard Zinn, Richard Wolff, you know the people who have been at the forefront of warning us about our current crises years and years ago. Instead, we get the same old one hit wonders, people who seem only able to tell us things we know are going on and more importantly toe the line and not point out things the Times finds "inconvenient." As the world saddens wouldn't it be more responsible to have a mental health professional discuss that fact than a man who has been more wrong than right and unable to admit to catastrophic errors written in this very publication?
Blaine (Steele)
“Often it’s human flourishing, stupid, including community cohesion, a sense of being respected, social connection.” Did this sentence puzzle? It did me.
Annette (Midwest)
People can only live with cognitive dissonance so long before there are signs of mental fraying.
alan (MA)
"Headlines in left-leaning media got a lot more negative, but headlines in right-leaning publications got even more negative than that." MAGA!! Cause or effect???
CB Evans (Continental Divide Trail)
Nary a peep about overpopulation?
H. Clark (Long Island)
I'm saddened by the fact that American democracy is being trashed left and right and that the leaders who were elected to uphold the Constitution decided to promulgate a big lie instead and follow a deranged, illiterate cult leader. Who wouldn't be sad, when the Great American Experiment in Democracy is under threat by the dumbest and most arrogant among us?
Michael H. (Hamilton Canada)
Think globally, act locally. Decrease the sadness locally, David, by putting more thought and effort into your columns and stop writing off the top of your head. You literally lost me at "Taylor Swift" and "2006". Dear Lord...
Milton (New York)
Welcome to your hero Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on a hill,” built on greed and lies.
William (Westchester)
One possible reaction is to shrink all these unhappy people down to the size where they can drown in a bathtub. Cancelling is not the ultimate solution.
ABC (Flushing)
There are realistic Democrats who are not antiAmerican. But you follow Progressives. They brought progressively more crime, progressively more race-baiting, Maoist cancel culture. The Democratic Party is the party of endless loony liberal ideas — b/c of Progressives. Excise the tumor, the Progressives. I voted for Biden b/c he’s not Trump. With Trump gone, I will not support endless loony liberal ideas nobody thought through (defund the police, open borders, my life doesn’t matter, decriminalizing to fool people into thinking Dems lowered crime, coddling criminals, men in sports as women). Progressive policy is No photo of criminals in media — unless the criminal is white. It’s similar to media broadcasts to look for a criminal on the loose and they give you a description of the perp’s clothes not the perp — as if the clothes committed the crime. Similarly, GOP is trying to get rid of its nutcases.
Steve Slover (Olive Branch, Ms)
I don't know where you live Pal but sadness didn't hit town till the democrats took over.
Dee Cee (Long Beach Ca)
MEB (America)
Victor Frankl could find meaning to live while in a Nazi concentration camp (Man’s Search For Meaning). What is wrong with our culture that we today cannot find meaning? It is tragic that we neglect spiritual needs
Tricia (California)
How unsurprising. Look at your paper. Oil companies are making record profits. Hatred is growing across the globe. Wealth inequality has never been more pronounced. The richest country has children going to bed hungry. Misogyny and racism is growing stronger. So called Christians are winning with their hate filled lives. Putin is killing innocent people. Why should we be surprised?
Robbie Heidinger (Westhampton)
For 30 yrs he brayed the right wing line, got his right wing culture and has his booboo sad.
M. Yohanna (Chicago)
In the 1980's we traded a highly progressive income tax for a highly regressive payroll tax. The result has been a wealth inequality that has created a new Gilded Age. So many are desperate. So few are gilded. "Let them eat cake" is not the answer.
Jennifer Molnar (Denver)
OK so this isn't really news, right? The question is, what can we do about this epidemic of sadness/depression, hunger, physical misery and income inequality? Mr. Brooks, ever the conservative, would no doubt resist attempts to redistribute wealth, yet here he is complaining about how income inequality has wreaked havoc on communities..... Also, traditional institutions that provided "built=in" community are breaking down - for example, fewer and fewer of us go to church, or belong to unions, or meet our neighbors at the bus-stop with our kids (because kids don't all go to the same school anymore - for better or worse). The good news about all of this is that we are more free to choose our communities. And, in theory, the internet should make it EASIER for us to find "our people" both IRL and online. But it takes effort. When we get to know our neighbors (or whatever community you choose), we see how multidimensional we human beings are - we see how we can be friends even though we disagree on some things. This builds trust and reduces the divisiveness gripping our country. (Some of my best friends are Republicans!) We begin to focus more on what we have in common than what we don't. Of course, this assumes that our basic needs have been met - which the first part of this article discusses - it's hard to spend energy on relationships when our bellies are empty....
Randy Zauhar (Philadelphia)
"The top 20 percent of the world is experiencing the highest level of happiness and well-being since Gallup began measuring these things. The bottom 20 percent is experiencing the worst. " How are the top 20% so happy, knowing that the bottom 80% are so sad? Especially when they probably have a lot to do with all that sadness. Must reflect the sort of person you need to be in order to 'make it' it in the 21st century. I appreciate that Mr Brooks starts off with pop music. Anyone who wants a shock of realization as to how things have fundamentally changed over the last 50+ years should watch QuestLove's 'Summer of Soul', recordings of a 1969 music festival in Harlem. It features a mix of the greatest stars of the era, along with great performers who I doubt had much name recognition at the time. What you see in those performances are human beings from the pre-android age. That was before our economy and culture hardened in its demands that everyone learn to behave like a programmed machine, speak from a script, write approved words. Even in music, the animal spirits that used to flow freely in humanity are channeled by corporate power, creative energy is funneled through producers, engineers and electronics until it is 'perfected' and ready for market. This mechanization of humanity extends from Amazon warehouses to Indian call centers. You know why everyone is so sad? Because no one cares if a machine is happy.
M (London)
Criteria for what impoverishes us must be examined as well. For example, do we struggle to feed our families because we feel we must provide them with streaming services? It seems clear that internet access is a necessity in the modern age -- pretty hard to apply for jobs without it -- but do our household budgets include what might be called niceties?
Lisa Rigge (Pleasanton CA)
These comments bring me back when I first travelled to Mexico and Guatemala. I recall being so surprised at those in poverty being so very happy. Or at least that’s how I read their gleaming smiles. Most Central American towns have plazas where families gather at night with children singing and dancing in the streets. Families share what little they have as those with little know what it feels like to be without and share the most. As others have commented, money doesn’t buy happiness. As for action - smile at that person you walk by. Call up a relative or friend you haven’t spoken to in a while. Hold the door open for someone. Strike up a conversation with a stranger. Human contact, however brief, can be the elixir of connection and joy. We can’t single-handedly change the world, but we can brighten someone’s day, albeit momentarily. And a gratitude list at the end of the day are good reminders we can have something in our lives to be grateful for.
bsevermont (vt)
I often wonder about the role of the increased flow of information we are subjected to or able to access over these time frames. In my youth we had to seach for extensive "foreign" news while now everything from individual cruelty to outright war as in Ukraine or violent actions such as we are seening now in Myanmar. Then there is the daily news of explosions, shootings, and other negative events that we perhaps never knew about way back when. I think there was a lot of the negative stuff then but the population grew hugely and the news outlets were supplanted by the internet with all its rumors and inaccuracies. Yes things are scaier and sadder now, but some of it is that we now know about it all, globally.
Eric (San Francisco)
I'm surprised that electronic media saturation doesn't get a mention. Wealth inequality, devastating climate change, and the intentional pitting of "us vs them" are certainly factors in global unhappiness, but the force-multiplier that is social media and 24-hr bombastic "news" is a brutally effective psychological weapon. The bad, the unjust, the tragic have always occurred in this world; but this is the first time that the ills of the world are infused into the minds of humans on a continuous basis.
Paul (Denver)
I think it IS the economy. When everyone has a generous opportunity to make enough to live and save within a 30-40 hr work week, they also have time to develop friendships, community, and family. Working 60-80 hrs and feeling pinched doesn’t allow this - 10 hrs at McDonalds means 10hrs less building community in church, synagogue, and mosque, etc…. Micah, the OT prophet, predicted a day when everyone would sit under their own vine and fig tree - everyone would have a portion of prosperity and peace. Economic policy which chips away at the poor and middle classes’ wealth through interest, inflation, and taxation, while benefitting the wealthy, takes away this opportunity.
Sean (PA)
Statistically, I am part of the 20%. I am NOT happy. I am scared and sad that our politics derive from the dichotomous reasoning of the nostalgists on the right and the utopians on the left. Our nation is a collective that has problems and that has made progress. Justice is fairness as Potter Stewart once quipped. Fairness is not equality. Nor is it liberty. Nor is it fraternity or what is good for the collective. It is a balancing of the three. It requires thoughtfulness, suspension of self-interest and awareness of long-term consequences. Civilization hangs in the balance...
Steve Bolger (New York City)
@Sean: Reason requires exclusion of the projected interests of imaginary deities. Separation of church and state is essential to keep negotiations of public policies real.
Sean (PA)
@Steve Bolger Thanks for the reply, Steve. As a liberal and an agnostic, I could not agree more. However, reason requires recognition of the fact that we reason from beliefs or intuitions, from a bottom-up not top-down manner. Whereas Dawkins points to the God Delusion, Jonahathan Haidt shows that Dawkins' replaces it with a reason delusion. It is not the interests of imaginary deities that are the problem. It is the interests of ideologues be they religious or secular that are the problem.
Michael H (Oakland, CA)
Living where dictators rule with an iron fist and squash anyone who questions their authority makes many dissatisfied. The waste on war that could build food security and the lack of cooperation to make sure people do not go hungry does too. We could also look up from our phones and engage with people. Instead of opening Instagram how about going to your local food bank website and making a donation. Making someone in our own community happy and well fed is a start to global equity and life satisfaction. Use your phone for that.
Jonathan Simons (Germany)
Although I think David Brooks is a wonderful thinker and journalist, notice the absence of any discussion about how the Internet and social media have impacted our sense of community and localism. Replacing embodied community, including eye-contact, hugs, and the tolerance of nuance and silence with the hyperbolic, fragmented digital forums we have now, might have something to do with this evolution Brooks and the researchers speak of. After all, there have always been hopeless times, war, inflation, and the like. But we have never had anything before like constant connectivity and social media. That's the elephant in the room.
betty durso (philly area)
There are many religions. They point to the same Being. And their requirements are similar: Love thy neighbor as thy self. That's all. Sometimes it's really hard. But it leads to happiness.
Joe Pearce (Brooklyn)
I'm quite happy, and always have been no matter what good or bad life has thrown at me. But I had positive role models in all areas, both personally and in the larger context. Could it be that people growing up in the last 50 years or so have been programmed to be unhappy by a never-ending emphasis on what is wrong in their world or in the world in general? In other words, does pessimism become the standard state of mind in lieu of even a little well-placed optimism. Maybe that's simplistic, but if eternal pessimism is the paper currency of the day and optimism confined to spare pocket change, the former will win out every time. No matter how it goes, though, I'm determined to remain happy, which is at least a start towards actually being happy. More people should try it.
Allison (California)
Knowing that birds are disappearing because of the human species— this causes me near constant grief. Knowing that snow is disappearing, that our lands are on fire or being washed away causes me fear and uncertainty. That our society has bought into the game of hatred makes me lose hope.
David Martin (Paris)
At 61, in some ways, I am happier than ever. Part of it is that, since the pandemic, I haven’t worked in an office since December of 2019. The pandemic led me to getting a « special deal » where I can work from home. The grind of wasting 12 or more hours a week in the metro, every work week, had taken a toll. Things are better now for that. I look back at being 31 and working in New York, and those are good memories, but this happiness is different. I stopped being friends with a few people when I was in my 40s, and that helped a bit too. Not like a light switch I flicked and suddenly became happy, but a subtle and gradual improvement. I have figured out too that you don’t need to get revenge on the nasty people that treat you badly. I see now, if somebody is nasty to you, and they have forgotten your name, that’s the greatest thing. No need to do anything to make them remember you. They are already living the worst of lives, so there’s no need for revenge.
PJ (Saratoga County, NY)
Maybe they're unhappy and depressed because the Earth is dying. Species are disappearing. Maybe they are in mourning. And no one in power seems to care.
Gina (San Marcos)
@PJ this is real
I wonder how the 12-step model of creating community around common but personal goals (e.g., the addiction-centered AA, NA) could extend into more general organized affinities where people simply support and listen to each other. No money, no fame, just simple and reliable human contact.
James C. (Maryland)
The essential cause of sadness in the US is that the super wealthy have manipulated the system to create both a market economy and a market society. It's fine to have a free market economy (emphasis on "free"), but not good to have a market society. In a market society, the golden rule is followed: the person with the gold rules. In the US market society, a not very bright guy with serious mental health issues like Kanye West is a billionaire while people in Jackson, Mississippi don't have drinkable water. How can people in Jackson feel other than very sad? Once the super wealthy have effective control, it's hard to move toward a more equalitarian society without having an upheaval like the French Revolution. Our antiquated 18th Century Constitution is a barrier to creating a better society for all. I'm not holding my breath for long needed Constitutional amendments.
Wally Grigo (Madison, Ct)
"Sixteen years ago, only 1.6 percent of people worldwide rated their life as a zero. As of last year, the share of people reporting the worst possible lives has more than quadrupled." OK, I buy that. But what happened 16 years ago? The explosion of the internet. People everywhere were exposed to life's possibilities anywhere but home. Why this reaction is viewed as a bad thing is a mystery to me. Perhaps it will instigate a social revolution--everywhere.
JM (San Francisco)
@Wally Grigo That people are literally addicted to spending so much of their time on social media reading and comparing their own imperfect lives to what "appears to be" the more fortunate lives of others is an instant recipe for discontent, jealousy and hopelessness.
Wally Grigo (Madison, Ct)
@JM Valid point. But what if an on-line investigation of the world unveils possibilities that simply couldn't have been imagined otherwise? It would then be up to the individual to decide whether or not to pursue a new and different dream--with the understanding that it might indeed NOT lead to greater happiness. Life is about taking that shot...or not.
kcurran (USA)
The holy grail is trust. The journey to find it is futile. The challenge is to focus on the immediate with a small feeling that you can at least influence the present. The fear is that if you focus on the present and pay less attention to the bigger scene including politics, economy, world chaos, you will not act on the responsibility to do good that we humans inherently feel. When trust is gone, we sink into hopelessness and apathy and the vicious cycle continues. I think this describes what's behind all the stats cited in this article.
D Bartholomew (Utah)
When more people realize that our unbridled economic system, where our populace strives for services and material goods, does not bring happiness, only then can we come to see that fulfilling needs and dignity will bring happiness and contentment.
Jim (Utah)
Yes, poverty and a lack of control over your destiny will make people unhappy. And a surfeit of both exist in the world today. But, in wealthy democratic countries, it seems like another factor, one of increasing self-centeredness, is also in play. Why were Britains so unhappy that they divorced themselves from the EU community even though their median income was nowhere near that of India or China and they had national healthcare? Why is evangelical nationalism on the rise in the US? Is it driven by a desire to make lives better for others? Why did the unhappy Americans attack the Capitol on January 6th? Was it because they were suffering in poverty?
skeptonomist (Tennessee)
There are two main things which have caused an increase in dissatisfaction, if not sadness, over the last fifty years in the US. One is the undoubted increase in inequality. From the late 1930's through the 1960's wage-earners saw a definite increase in their standard of living and prospects. This came to an abrupt end in the 70's as real wages fell. The reasons for this are complex, but this has been an era of conservative economic policies, quite different from those of the Post-WWII era. The other is the deliberate campaign by the Republican party to promote religious ascendancy and to encourage resistance to racial equality. This has the purpose of distracting from the way that Republican economic policies are increasing inequality. The result is increasing polarization which has reached the point where many on the right deny reality. It might be said that Democrats are ultimately responsible because they have continued to push for racial equality, but anyone who accepts that obviously prefers the previous Jim Crow status. Among other things Brooks identifies a loss of "community cohesion" as a possible cause of sadness. Of course cohesion is lost when one of the parties has the deliberate aim of setting whites against non-whites and the religious against the non-religious.
Lawyer in a Western State (Western State)
At least in the U.S., the Republican playbook has been to block any proposed legislation that would benefit the middle and lower socioeconomic classes. Then the Rs can run on dissatisfaction with the government's ability to make the average person's life better. And then there are the guns. And the rise of narco-trafficking, which the War on Drugs has done little to reduce and perhaps more to promote. Finally, ignoring and failing to plan for the consequences of global warning places us in peril. All these chickens are coming home to roost.
Pawel (Massachusetts)
I wonder what this "happiness" poll would have looked like in the Great Depression heading into WW2...Maybe too many people today have expectations that are beyond the capacity for today's societies to deliver. Onward and upward...forever? Maybe not...
Ranger (Colorado)
So, what is each one of us going to do about it? Helping even one person goes a long way.
jephy35 (Pittsboro, NC)
“The rich get richer and the poor get poorer”. In the meantime, in between time let’s try to love. Simplistic? PollyAnnish? I hold out hope though I’ll mark my 84th birthday on Monday. Born during the depression and childhood during a world war and atom bombs I am nervous but hopeful. Why go out on a low note?
Cate (New Mexico)
@jephy35: Well--jephy35, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU! Your being "nervous but hopeful" may be one reason why you have lived so long. If we all took that as our life's motto, maybe the "happiness index" would change. May this coming Monday be enjoyable for you!
jephy35 (Pittsboro, NC)
@Cate Thanks, Mazeltov!
Guy Walker (NYC)
Yeah, Trickle down doesn't work. There were no WMDs in Iraq. People are looking for societal security. The common good is not Citizens United. Jacques Cousteau was right, overpopulation is strangling us. Eisenhower was right, we are a military based death machine. "let the buyer beware" isn't a good national theme. And from what I've seen in my own 65 years, I'd consider reparations similar to what Britain offered after the patriots ousted the loyalists because Black folks are getting cheated, and tricking people has little to do with the common good. Oh, and Pence knew about the riot and attempted coup, don't kid yourself.
crow (new york)
From "Love is love" we as society came to "Love is hate".
Bulldawg (DC)
@crow "Freedom is slavery. War is peace."
Chris (TN)
I despaired when George Floyd was brutally murdered and the response to his death was mixed. I no longer really wanted to live in the U.S. but didn't really have anywhere to go and couldn't go anywhere without causing a lot of upheaval around me.
JWALD (Brooklyn)
It's hard to feel happy and hopeful when the world feels like it is burning down, both figuratively and literally. I think of my 10-year-old and the world we are leaving for her, and future generations and it truly leaves me feeling despair. We've become polarized on every possible issue and technology seems to be making everyone numb to humanity and kindness. Rights are being taken away and democracy is imperiled. People seem to have lost sight of truth and decency. It's challenging to parent in this day and age when everyone has become so nasty and vile. My bright light is that everything I do is to make sure my child has a good a chance as possible at having a better life.
Someone (Somewhere)
“I've never understood America,"said the king. "Neither do we, sir. You might say we have two governments, kind of overlapping. First we have the elected government. It's Democratic or Republican, doesn't make much difference, and then there's corporation government." "They get along together, these governments?" "Sometimes," said Tod. "I don't understand it myself. You see, the elected government pretends to be democratic, and actually it is autocratic. The corporation governments pretend to be autocratic and they're all the time accusing the others of socialism. They hate socialism." "So I have heard," said Pippin. "Well, here's the funny thing, sir. You take a big corporation in America, say like General Motors or Du Pont or U.S. Steel. The thing they're most afraid of is socialism, and at the same time they themselves are socialist states." -John Steinbeck, The Short Reign of Pippin IV
David Roy (Fort Collins CO)
One of the biggest markers that aligns with Mr. Brooks column is that we have a new breed of citizen, training to kill for power, and Trump, taking over the space once occupied by citizens who said that they would be willing to die for freedom.
kcurran (USA)
@David Roy And billionaires who spend 44 billion on a silly app under the guise of free speech. What massive positive impact could 44 billion have had! When will we learn to broaden the definition of profit to include prosperity, not just personal dollars in the bank?
JBL (Dubai)
And yet the right-wing political party that Mr. Brooks supports is doing its best to make humanity even unhappier, by denying women control over their own bodies, denying LGBTQ folks basic human dignity and human rights including the right to marriage, encouraging racial hatred and xenophobia, helping the 1% get even richer on the backs of the working class, showing zero compassion towards refugees, fighting efforts to halt global warming, shredding every last environmental regulation out there ... the list is endless.
Lon Zo (Boston)
In America Republicans have blocked many many laws that would alleviate a lot of what makes life so difficult. They want misery and hatred to keep the rubes unhappy so they can blame Democrats. The ultimate goal is almost no government services, replaced by corporations. Everything privatized. THEN the misery will be worse. But so what? It’ll be too late to do anything about it.
Elizabeth (Alabama)
I didn't see any mention of climate change and overall degradation of the planet in this article. It's hard to be happy when you see your world collapsing. Even for those who are not "environmentalists" I think there are large numbers of people who are now living with a nagging sense of dread.
Bulldawg (DC)
@Elizabeth David is a Republican, and it is therefore not profitable for him to acknowledge Climate change.
Bill H (Florida)
Two conservative Times opinion writers seem to have had epiphanies today. Bret acknowledged climate change is real and David realizes there is a continued slide in the quality of life globally. Now if they both could accept one political ideology and unbridled greed are the underlying causes, we might get somewhere. Unfortunately, we won't because next week's article from these guys will go after Democrats because it is their job. Jobs they do so well, nothing whatsoever will change on destroying our planet or making lives better.
Bill H (Florida)
@John Lalla Deeply committed Christians would not realize just this week things are falling apart. Go to any food pantry. Look at poverty rates. Look at the homeless. Add in the hypocrisy of being pro-life but kids live in poverty around the globe. If a theological argument can be made that there has been evil in the form of man throughout history, denying it is happening again is arrogance or ignorance.
John Lalla (Eugene, Oregon)
David isn’t partisan. Not even a little. He’s a deeply committed Christian, with a high degree of empathy. The criticisms he levels at us on the left are intended to give provide insight on where our messaging falls flat. His republicanism is almost, not quite, in name only. He isn’t socially vilified by them because his religious “credentials” are unimpeachable. I’ve met him. The man weeps real tears over injustice. He’s quite sincere. You might want to reconsider burning the messenger.
Chris (Chandler AZ)
Loneliness, isolation, pain, and poverty do not cause misery - misery stems from an inability to do anything about it. If you live in a dwelling with multiple units or a neighborhood of houses, there is a good chance that you know very few people well, if at all. If you go up to someone, extend your hand, smile (essential), introduce yourself, and say, “My name is Hope; I don’t believe we’ve met,” then you’re doing something about misery - not just one person, but for two people. That is the very first thing anyone can do - and it may very well be the start of a solution for someone’s pain and even poverty, as well as their isolation. Simple gifts make us well and make us rich. All of this stuff was codified in texts thousands of years ago - the trick is not to ignore it.
Ager Publicus (Bigfoot County)
@Chris It all comes back to community
Rita Rousseau (Chicago)
@Chris The handshake is a bad idea, though. A custom we should have put to rest permanently with the pandemic.
Mark Kropf (Long Island)
People might hope that a culture tolerant of options could create happiness, but it has power to create dissension, violence and splits of various forms between its members. Abundance of viewpoints, much as abundance of languages and religions leads to aggravation, attack and sometimes to misery. Much of what has happened in recent times has been less than pleasant and that has been followed by major weather events and by the recent Covid19 Pandemic. Anybody who has read Professor Snowden's Epidemics and Society: From Black Death to the Present will understand that stress and deprivation shape a culture yet further in ways not generally easily tolerated nor desirable. In short, there is more than adequate explanation for the mood of the public in the current times. We would be rather inappropriate to be happy about the recent events. Mankind as a whole is suffering from what might be considered a reactive depressive mood. I do not relish much of what is now seen nor of the often facile remedies considered applicable in its address. In such times of turmoil as those in which we now live, a good deal of patience is required to allow things to shake themselves out. The less extreme behaviors we seek while we collectively glower at events, the better off we will be.
Ava (Kennewick, WA)
It's sad to read this. Not surprising, however. For the past couple of years, I confess my relative contentment has been pharmaceutically-induced, even though my life circumstances are actually quite good. One lesson I learned from the pandemic is that we all need to take better care of our neighbor. I have a comfortable home, good job, and a wonderful family. I have good friends and enjoyable hobbies. I can express my gratitude by reaching out in love to people who are not as fortunate. Caring for other people can be a spirit-healing exercise for both me and the person on the receiving end. I would encourage everyone to look for opportunities to take a little extra effort for someone you might know a little, but not very well. Visit them in a hospital or nursing home, take them a meal, or better yet, invite them to have a meal with you. Mow someone's grass or take care of some ordinary need they may have. It makes such a huge difference.
bigeyes (San Francisco)
@Ava This is one of the best comments here, thanks for putting it into words. It's so simple, really. But most people will skim right over your comment to the more incendiary ones ... and they wonder why they feel so negative. Those who are successful at making or fostering change start small ... and let it radiate out from there.
JustMe (CA)
I think happiness may be the wrong word, especially in smiley face America where we are taught to pursue it. Who ever felt happy while in pursuit of happiness?
F toki (Texas)
@JustMe Very good point. Perhaps all on Gallup polls have varying definitions of the word/concept 'happiness.' Contentment, comfort, acceptance?
Ramesh G (SF)
20 years ago,the top shows were sitcoms Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond, then came Survivor, the Apprentice, the Bachelor and the Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, Squid Game
Carl (Arlington.p, Va)
It's hard not to carry some sadness around. Our country has lost its fervor for democracy. With technology and knowledge that was unthinkable when I was a kid, we're incapable of stemming epidemics and more are undoubtedly coming. What's more, many people don't seem to care that we've lost so many people unnecessarily. Our kids get Kevlar backpacks as presents, teachers are told to militarize. Race relations have in many ways improved and in key ways, worsened. We're incapable of maintaining concerted action to address climate change. Our Supreme Court, in concert with a big number of states, is criminalizing women and doctors. Instantaneous communication causes as many problems as it solves. I don't have kids and probably won't experience the country and world for more than another couple of decades, if I'm lucky enough for that. I love my life and feel fortunate to have seen so many wonderful changes in the world. But I'm sad and angry that we've loaded so many burdens onto younger people that seem so unnecessary. I never regret having participated in the civil rights and antiwar movements, But it's sure sad to have to see so many things happen that we thought we were past.
MBK (East Coast)
@Carl Absolutely. I hate to say this but I wonder if I should have opted to be child free. I love my 2 children and my 6 grandchildren but extreme worry about their futures requires me to self medicate OFTEN to get some sleep. I do what I can to make this a better world, but most days it seems hopeless.
POW (Wa)
I think people are far less happy because the things we value most don't lead to happiness. More money, a bigger house, and nicer clothes all feel good for a short while, but they don't create durable happiness. Family, close friends, close community, and shared experiences with community members do create lasting happiness. So many of us around the world live far from family, have no close friends, and have no connection to our neighbors or others members of the community. Many of us have lost the ability to make small talk. We are highly suspicious of people who are different from us, but at the same time, are bored with, and judgemental towards our peers. Young people all over the world are not getting married, because they have been trained to fear marriage. Instead, hook-up culture, low-investment situationships, polyamory, pornography, and sex work are all promoted as "positive" substitutes. People literally feel less pain when they are around loved ones, but look at the worldwide rise of single people living alone. Innovations like remote work could have helped, but already business leaders are pushing back because they feel their control slipping away. In short, we have a social and economic system that rewards people for doing things that run counter to their emotional stability and well-being. That is why people are so desperately unhappy. Without a return to social cohesion and interdependency, levels of happiness will continue to decrease, in my opinion.
My Country Tis of Thee (Stanford)
Is it also possible that people are more unhappy because they've decided someone else is to blame? Where in all of this is my responsibility to confront my attitude and response? Of course, external circumstances will affect our lack of comfort and suffering. Of course those need to be addressed. But where is faith in the bigger picture? Where is resilience in ourselves? Why has blame overtaken appreciation for what I have. It's the imbalance that concerns me. Those who've made the biggest impact often suffer the most and pave a new path. They don't start with blame and hate. They start with love and gratitude. Concentrating on discontent seems to further discontent.
PaulOfVirginia (Virginia)
This article makes me unhappy. HA! more seriously, I'm not sure what the point of it is. Sometimes you're happy, sometimes you're not. The basis of the article may have been better served if we could also know if its the same people responding in each category, in each year, presented. Or whether this survey represents the normal churn of human events. Though I agree the general sentiment about life is trending negative, this may be the simple churning of generations - one passes and another rises; Messy, uncontrolled and unrooted - at least it feels that way. "Shattering" is a bit strident. The change humans endure from decade-to-decade are not 'shattering'. Most are obvious (at least in retrospect) and when these are also difficult to believe, there are often roots in the realm of effort; applied or unapplied. Blurring the notions of happiness with static measures of equity does not seem very useful. Adding in the broader awareness of the proximity of others (via technology and its oddly named social media) may have helped make this article's point. Overall wandering from Taylor Swift to food insecurity is a tough line to walk, so kudos for trying!
R. Anderson (South Carolina)
Let's focus on the U.S. please. 350 million guns and shootings every day of every week don't make me feel safe. At least half the adult population which won't wear masks and get vaccinated elevates my anxiety. Politicians like Jim Jordan, Marjorie Greene, Matt Gaetz, L. Bobert, McCarthy, Lindsey Graham, McMaster and tv personalities like Oz and Lake both sadden and anger me. Budding and bona fide dictators like Trump, MBS, Xi Jinping and Putin and Bolsonaro worry me. Add higher prices and greed and what do get, a SAD state of affairs where the rich get richer
Adam Stoler (Bronx Urban Warrior)
by all accounts and measure, the USA is among the least happy of developed countries, with our population seldom cracking the top 25. Charity begins at home David. Focus on the rapacious greed , lies, and mental illness that is gripping a larger and larger share of our population. America needs help. Now.
Jackson (Virginia)
@Adam Stoler So what are you doing about it? Or are you waiting for someone else?
Average Hoosier (indianapolis)
We tried very hard to tell you in the 60s. We declared that all you need is love. We sang we've got to get back to the garden. We exalted the feeling of going up country. We stuffed flowers into your gun barrels. And you made fun of us - when not trying to run us over for the supposed idiocy of turning on and dropping out and long hair. We pursued happiness while you sought a hollowed-out material world. So. How's that working out for you?
Mary Smith (Riverside, CA)
@Katrin Simplistic. As a late "boomer," my first job was as a security guard in 1978 as it was the only job I could find out of high school and things were already starting to tank by 1980, when I was first eligible to vote. Early college years were curtailed by the 1980-81 (approximately) recession. I have gone to school in three different states and moved many times (seeking better jobs) in five different states. The picture you try to paint of all the fat and happy boomers with money following out of their pockets is not accurate. And average hoosier is right. As a culture, we could have ziged. But we zaged instead.
MBK (East Coast)
@Katrin Hey, I’m a Boomer and although I may not look like a Hippie, I’m certainly more THAT, than not. Every Boomer I know wants their children and grandchildren to thrive, which is the opposite of “pulling the ladder up behind them”. I know you only attach this description to “many” Boomers — not all, and not even most — I just wanted to assure you that every Boomer I know has a dog in this fight. And we VERY much do care about the younger generations. Peace ✌️
Katrin (Wisconsin)
@Average Hoosier Many of those hippies of yore are the „get off my lawn“ Boomers of today. What happened? The boomers were born into a growing economy and a society with strong pro-Social structures — affordable higher education, unions, Medicare, pensions, etc. Now many want to pull the ladder up behind them.
Al (NYC)
Have zero hope for the future if Republicans win the mid-terms. Locally, daily life in NYC continues to get worse, more depressing and more expensive. Garbage everywhere, gentrification tsunami is unabated and wrecking neighborhoods, school system a mess, less bus and subway service, near daily hits by Citibikers and more.....
Nolapdog (Australia)
I am amazed how people have enslaved themselves. They have let politician brainwash them, they have allowed politicians to send them to wars,they have allowed themselves to become slaves to credit/credit cards. What is needed is more critical thinking, more scrutinizing of our elected politicians.We pay the politician's wages yet we let them lie and deceive us. We are more interested in the latest football score or the latest soap opera than our freedom or democracy. We accept the illusion of democracy.
TH (Chicago)
Is it the chicken or the egg? Many people are mean, jealous, selfish, and can’t be happy for others, especially if struggling themselves. I just read about the woman who tweeted about enjoying mornings with her husband over coffee, and she got attacked! We can blame social media, Trump for opening Pandora’s box, global angst, wars, poverty, inequality, bad parenting, lack of values, self-absorption, etc, but at what point, do we take responsibility for our own happiness and try to positively impact our small communities? We don’t need religion: be kind and lift people up instead of tearing them down!
mayflower (tucson)
one large problem: 'leaders' are not just "missing" the signals of unhappiness and desparation, they dont seem to actually care
je (NE)
“The negativity in the [media] culture reflects the negativity in real life.” It also amplifies it.
Randy Watson (Atlanta)
I hate to be all 12-Step, but the only cure I've found for sadness is living in gratitude, being of service, and taking action. The rest is all navel-gazing.
Tom Tuna (Michigan)
@Randy Watson Some would refer to your choice as "denial".
spud (NC)
There's a picture of Elon Musk on the NYT opening page. How can someone struggling with medical costs, feeding their family, or just making a decent life for themselves not be sad, and angry, when seeing that and assessing how they relate to it? And yet we throw up our hands wondering why there is so much gun violence in our country.
RCS (Princeton Junction)
We don’t have to read the poll numbers - it’s not at all surprising that the degree of “Global Sadness” is RISING - from my vantage point, I can readily list a few key reasons as follows: 1. The heartbreaking “Genocide” in Ukraine and it’s not slowing down at all notwithstanding the efforts US, France, UK and other countries. Through the media, we can all observe that “Sadness” is writ large on the faces of thousands of helplessly suffering Ukrainians. 2. The cataclysmic effect of the Pandemic: Untimely deaths of millions of innocent people and the overwhelming grief of their near and dear ones 3. The gradual destruction of our planet and the human lives by Climate Changes: Deadly floods, fires, storms in all different parts of the world 4. The political polarization of our country: The insurrection efforts of January 6. Yet the GOP leaders continue to use Trump as their “Faustian Bargain” because they chose Trump over country. Our venerable democracy is in trouble. It’s truly APOCALYPSE NOW!
JK (The OP)
What is there to look forward to? Toil away in wage slavery for years so that you might get a front row seat to the coming climate apocalypse? There's no light at the end of the tunnel.
JK (The OP)
Not speaking from a personal perspective. Do you not think this might apply to others.
Jackson (Virginia)
@JK Maybe you should find a job you like.
pechenan (Boston)
The monstrous and ever-growing economic inequality all over the world leaves most of the population realizing that 'you can't get ahead'. Many (most?) people on the planet barely eke out a living. Looming behind all of this is the specter of climate change and a growing recognition of the magnitude of the impending catastrophes. For those of us whose most basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter are met, happiness can be carefully cultivated even in the face of all this. But for those whose existence must be focused on day-to-day survival, I would imagine any kind of happiness is quite a stretch. The rich continue on in a dream world of their own making, but even that cannot go on forever.
Brian (Philadelphia)
My struggles with depression and anxiety have troubled me for 60 years. But when things get bad for me now, it is very bad indeed. I have reached the conclusion that the pandemic in combination with the lockdown broke me somehow. Things that used to give me joy no longer do. I can manage to have a nice time, I adore my husband, going out to eat feels like a vacation these days. But lying on the couch most of the time, that feels more my speed. I don’t understand how I could lose my mojo so completely. I keep telling myself “want SOMETHING.” But I have no idea what that would be.
Marilyn (USA)
@Brian I don't know your situation or location, but sometimes caring or volunteering for animals, horses, dogs, cats, whatever you can easily access via a shelter or whatever, can help. Somehow, feeling needed by something other than yourself is uplifting. Just a suggestion. Wish you well.
Ava (Kennewick, WA)
@Brian I am so sorry you are going through this. I have also struggled with depression and lying on the couch, not really able to even function. For me, a low dose of anti-depressant helps me break through just enough to start doing things and enjoying them again. And doing those things also helps me. I know your troubles are not exactly like mine, and the solution won't be like mine, either. But I hope you find a solution that works for you in your life.
hen3ry (Westchester, NY)
@Brian, I hear you. I have had to deal with depression and anxiety for most of my life too. More often than I used to, I feel like something inside has died. I think it has to do with 4 years of a very volatile presidency, the continual frustration of living in a society that is, by and large, intolerant of anyone who is different, and the realization that, in the last 40m some years, things have not improved for most of us. I keep on going but it's out of habit, not because I'm in love with living.
Doug (Indiana)
If misery levels keep rising, what can we expect in the future? Conservative Policies Are Associated with Early Death, Study Finds This research lends statistical evidence to what the left wing has maintained for many years: left-leaning and leftist policies are not only a moral imperative but also, in many cases by design, save lives. Conservative policies, meanwhile, are often designed to consolidate capital and help corporations and the wealthy hoard ever more money and power — which comes with devastating human consequences. The study showed that higher mortality was associated with policies “helping the private sector to thrive in hopes that the economic gains would trickle down to those who need more assistance.”
B. Rothman (NYC)
@Doug There is no cure for a short-sighted humanity that seeks a quick, individual cure for a community wide problem.
Scott Emery (Oak Park, IL)
These results indicate that poorly and lightly regulated global capitalism has failed to provide broad-based mental and physical health. It is stressful, it is dirty and it is unjust. For forty years, people like David Brooks have tried to tell us that the state, not the "free" market is the enemy of growth and prosperity and is ill-suited to solve problems that arise from economic dislocations. Let the market solve the problems. Freedom of capital will provide all goods, physical and intangible. These views became orthodoxy worldwide after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the opening of China to capital by Deng Xiao Ping. And these theories have failed. David Brooks is now so frequently astonished that the fairy tales that he advocated, without examining the history of 1870 - 1930, have led now to a condition that resembles the end of that former age of global capital. But will he say that he was wrong, or that it would be poor judgment for the voting public to elect Republicans in the US and Conservatives in the UK who will once again promote deregulation and tax cuts as the path toward happiness for the masses? No, he will not make those statements. Neither will many others, including Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, who both knelt before the market gods. George W Bush will not admit complicity, nor David Cameron. Thatcher and Reagan are sacrosanct. And therein lies the rub.
B. Rothman (NYC)
@Scott Emery Humanity may need capitalism to produce goods and services but it needs government to collect and redistribute commensurate taxes on those profits into community services and goods (healthcare and infrastructure for example). In our time, with humanity created global warming presenting a greater threat than in the past, capitalism alone is truly incapable of providing any solutions and generally makes things worse before men wrest away power in an effort to restore some social necessities and order. Conservatives generate additional intra-social conflict and anger as they try to empower capitalism which is already Darwinian, and is their solution to everything along with low taxes on the rich. The end of this story is well known and always ignored: further breakdown of law and order, political conflict becoming violent and the imposition of force to impose order. We are or have experienced the first two. Only the last is missing and a Republican win in November guarantees that. They’ve already shown voters what the goal is by slobbering all over their “leader” Trump. The philosophy of Me Firsterism remains the same and is the death of democracy. For an educated guy, Mr. Brooks has no wisdom.
bemused (ct.)
@Scott Emery A very succinct review of the insanity that is conservatism. Also, a very succinct analysis of the fantasy world that closet social neo-darwinist putative thinkers like Mr. Brooks inhabit. The market is their God. The universal CEO of their fever dreams. Comes with batteries.
Carolyn (California)
In our constant quest for more everything based on a consumer economy we have less emotional well being. Our focus is on the material world, not the spiritual realities that are present, but unseen and therefore ignored. Greed and ignorance bring suffering said the Buddha. He was right. He also taught the way out of suffering’ It’s there there if we choose to know it.
Turning Leaves (WI)
Yes Carolyn. Buddha also included hatred as one of the three poisons. Greed, hatred, delusion.
Walter Nieves (Suffern, New York)
So...epidemic disillusionment has broken out and the reaction ..sadness, is surprising...but to whom? It certainly can't be surprising to people that work hard and can't afford to pay the rent or to teachers in New York City where there are 100,000 homeless students. It is surprising that globally millions of immigrants continue to leave their homes hoping to find better conditions for themselves and their families even though they are being greeted by barbed wire fences. It is also true that epidemic pessimism in advanced countries owns no small debt of gratitude to social media's exploitation of peoples negative sentiments..all to earn a few bucks on the advertising dollars it can generate by feeding into negativism, panic and fear. We live now in a time when Cable news echoes the same news stories 24/7 almost all capable of generating anxiety and dread it should not be surprising that by the end of the day the feeling of happiness becomes elusive along with the belief that conditions are changeable...yet there are optimists that get up every morning and go to work delivering babies, drive busses , go to their easels and paint pictures and more importantly empathize with those that have turned sad and pessimistic and not only want to find a better way of life for the suffering. they are actively contributing and not just hoping.
Kris (Wisconsin)
What? No inclusion of where people are happy? The Scandinavian countries consistently rank at the top of happiest people. And what drives this? It is a social (not socialist) structure that puts government money behind what are public goods - healthcare for all which means everyone pays in, no renewals, some private healthcare that supplements, no fighting with insurance companies, no having to review long policy documents. Healthier workforce, higher labor participation. Paternity and maternity leave which gives families the time needed to properly care for a baby without worrying about losing your job. Subsidized daycare so parents are able to return to work knowing their children are being cared for. Subsidized college and trade schools which get young people ready for the workforce. And finally retirement options that don’t leave people in poverty when older and not able to work. Is it perfect? There is no human system yet that’s been found to be perfect but it beats the constant stress and worry of what we have here.
Joan Erlanger (Oregon)
@Kris Agree. Now the tricky to get folks on board with paying high tax rates for a civil society. Unfortunately, I don't see that happening in the USA in my lifetime. We don't seem willing to take care of each other.
@Kris Yes, I wish we could build something like that here. Unfortunately, it looks like the worse people's lives get, the more distrustful they get of their fellow citizens. All those poor people should have been voting for socialist policies to improve their lives, instead they vote for MAGA politicians who give them scapegoats to be angry at. They aren't willing to pay any taxes to help anyone else, but they're mostly shooting themselves in the foot. I really don't know how we break out of this cycle, it seems to just be spiraling downward.
Chris (Huntsville)
@bob Republicans and Democrats mostly look alike, yet... Your hypothesis doesn't work.
D Bartholomew (Utah)
We will all be happier when more people understand that because society has become so complex and intertwined, that only the most sophisticated and accomplished professionals can organize a society in which most people can flourish, rather than be governed by populists.
Chris (Huntsville)
@D Bartholomew The populists want to "rule"--not govern. We've been seeing this from the R's for years now. The candidates they now consistently put forward are those who spout the party lines, continue to spread the lies, and bully anyone who disagrees or criticizes them. They use intimidation and fearmongering. It's getting worse and worse...
D Bartholomew (Utah)
@Chris That's what I'm getting at, that maybe the country is ready for one party rule, like California, which is a beacon of entrepreneurship and freedom.
Chris (Huntsville)
@D Bartholomew Hmm. I find that a little scary, maybe because this is all I've ever known. We'll see what happens, won't we, because if the "wrong party" got in, then what??
Logic (Menlo Park)
I think humans are fundamentally built to be sad. There is something called hedonistic adaptation. It used to be that having food on your table is a cause for joy. Today, humans have a big gaping emotional hole that even the most advanced phones and cars cannot fix. I disagree that inequality is a cause. Yes, there are people who have several million or billions times my own net worth. But if I have the basics of housing, food, health and family/friends, why do I care about meaningless $ signs that I can never bring to the grave? I do not want to minimize those who are truly suffering because they don't have those things, but many of the sad people are sad not because they are lacking necessities that money can buy.
Sonicsuns (Someplace)
The news about emotional inequality reminds me of a quote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” Something must change. Injustice must be corrected.
Hugh Massengill (Oregon)
Don't worry David, when the far right religio-fascists of the Trump and Pence ilk take over, people will have grins on their faces, not because things are better, but that is the way people in information regulated dictatorships behave. I grew up in a "daddy knows best" culture in 1950's CT. Once we return to that place, the unhappiness will be contained to the darkness of the hidden places.
yr buddy (malden)
Ending racism and homelessness would be such a loss of “our” culture which is why “we” need to make America great again.
CA (Key West)
I believe that Americans are at the apex of hatred and anger, these two issues deeply effect our happiness and security. Add to that threatening dynamic, the truth that we are awash in weapons of war, we see fellow Americans and children randomly murdered on a daily basis. No one seems to care. We have an entire cult that believes that our elections are fraudulent, if they lose. If they win, by any means possible (do not need to be legal), our elections are just fine. We also have an non-functional legislature, filled with people that do not have intellect to be a dog catcher. Too many fear thinking, other then the party line, or honoring their oath of office. Finally a court so packed with Christian hypocrites, their total job is to destroy twenty-first-century America and return us to 1700s, where women and all those others knew their place. Alito cries that he in being threatened with assassination, possibly your ignorance of a well-regulation militia with muskets, caused this problem. If you were an American of conscience you, Thomas, Amy the handmaiden, and Kavanaugh should resign, some have lied under oath and Thomas should recluse himself, permanently. But I fear that we have traveled a bridge too far, and there is no tomorrow.
Jules (Burlington VT)
Capitalism which causes everything else, including climate disaster.
Jackson (Virginia)
@Jules And your alternative?
bemused (ct.)
@Jackson Regulation? Reinstate Glas-Steigal? Restructure tax system?
alan (Fernandina Beach)
"Headlines in left-leaning media got a lot more negative, but headlines in right-leaning publications got even more negative than that" haha, I should have known. Who would have guessed that clause number two was coming. So predictable.
SB (G2d)
David, would it be too much to ask for you to be a change agent for the good rather than a harbinger of bad news? You have the pulpit and the power of the written word - why not find the good? I could feel miserable about things but I have chosen to see "the glory in the flower".
Al M (Norfolk Va)
The majority of us understand the level of rot and corruption that cripples democracy, sickening our country and world for the enrichment of a few like insatiable parasites. Rather than sadness, we need unity, anger and commitment to overcome the rule of corporations and autocrats who are actively destroying the living world to further enrich themselves. They could not exist without our cooperation. Revolutions, including our own, have happened for far less reason. We need a global strike to dis-empower what is killing us and to move toward a cooperative system of mutual sustenance within our very real planetary resources. It seems it will take some kind of unifying event to spark us to needed action for self-preservation. Time is quickly running out.
Alice Hoquet (NY NY)
Maybe humans are discovering that humans are ghastly creatures? Maybe global information networks expand our awareness of how many humans are willing to exploit or annihilate the environment, resources, or other humans for wealth or power (which are both human constructs). Maybe humans are aware of how much ecological harm previous humans caused and that human concern is much less focused or reliable than humans believe.
Miss Anne Thrope (Utah)
@Alice Hoquet - A misanthrope after my own heart, Alice. Bummer, really, since we have such great potential as a species. If we could just do a better job of managing our gift/curse of our big Egos. “I love us humans, but we’re not such good people.” - Sara Menker
Drspock (New York)
This piece might be called, 'the end of the enlightenment.' The period of enlightenment gave the world a philosophical framework for what ultimately became our great experiment in democracy. Our fate, once in the hands of monarchs, would now be guided by the people. We had inalienable rights that were God given, not bestowed by dukes and barons. The core of these values was the right to life, liberty, and property. Property at the time of the enlightenment stood for the right to earn a living, to possess wealth and to be independent of the control of landlords. When you look at how those “rights” have withered, even as democracy has spread, you are inevitably led to our political economy. Democracy has now become a corporatocracy. We are rules by these new monarchs. Our political economy generates more wealth than at any point is history. Yet, most of it is increasingly funneled to those at the top. Happiness is more than physical possessions. But, basic necessities, and some measure of physical comfort is critical for all other development The UN has tried to support those enlightenment values by declaring international human rights to include economic rights, along with political and social rights. The US is all in on the political, which means elections. But has steadfastly opposed basic economic rights as an actual right. They include, food, clothing, shelter, health care and education. I'd be pretty unhappy without those, wouldn't you?
Miss Anne Thrope (Utah)
@Drspock - Yup!
Reed Erskine (Bearsville, NY)
Is the increasing militarization of our culture and society the cause of, or the result of unhappiness? Our automobiles have always reflected our aspirations. 60 years ago cars mimicked rockets and airplanes, 50 years ago it was size and power, 40 years ago it was economy and modesty. With the advent of the SUV, cars began to mimic military vehicles, and people began to wear military camouflage as fashion. We have evolved in my lifetime from respecting simple decency and honesty to venerating aggression and power, Donald Trump being the apotheosis of this trend. International cooperation has given way to nations exercising brute force to further their ambitions. Mr. Putin, in twenty years, has moved from amenability to despotism. The specter of nuclear conflict, dormant since my childhood, is once more haunting our nightmares. Climate change is drying, burning, or flooding our world at random. Does all this have anything to do with the nihilism of school shooters, right wing militias and the sense of malaise and grievance being ginned up by politicians? If ignorance was innocent bliss, then our vast digital awareness of the world is its dystopian opposite.
Duke (Brooklyn)
On one my first dates with my wife thirty some years, we watched the returns over drinks in a bar, and after Reagan won by a landslide, we looked at each other and without a word we both understood that it was basically the beginning of the end of this country. Al D'amato's win in NY also cemented that feeling. Luckily we were both infrequent drinkers or we'd both be dead by now.
VC (Richmond VA)
The best thing to come out of today's music industry in my opinion is the Swedish rock band "Ghost". They poke fun at the illegitimate and disgraced powers-that-be in the world's current religious communities, and satirize the fear that keeps those entities in power. It is joyful, hilarious, and ultimately uplifting in these dark times. Hope... as we say... is where you seek it.
John Davis (Austin TX)
Our politicians make public policy from a place of spite, causing opponents misery and suffering whenever they can, and that is their only point. Surely not improvement of our national offering to people who chose to live here. And we lead the world.
Chris (Huntsville)
@John Davis Totally agree. It seems they've all forgotten to listen to the people! Rather, they have chosen to ignore the people who elect them. So why would folks continue to vote against their own best interests??
That Gal (Neither Here Nor There)
I wonder if people have begun to think in more extreme terms & that has further influenced how they describe their emotions.
Nicholas (Washington, D.C.)
We took away culture and community, replacing it with commoditization and social atomization and we're wondering why we all need to be on three different medications to feel alright.
Bon Toll (New Jersey)
And in sixty-four years, I too have a panoramic picture of how this evolved; it doesn’t take a genius to figure it out either. Children growing up like me in the 60’s and 70’s had more freedom physically and mentally. We rode bikes ‘till dark’ then went home. No constant worrying about predators. No cellphone umbilical cords. No computer screens, only tangible objects. Room for imagination-not today where on Google it seems everything’s been done already. No worries about politicians tampering with truth or our elections. None. Moms stayed home with their kids in their early years, or do didn’t, without being judged. With the exception of Vietnam, foreign countries with different ideologies seemed further away, less of a threat. Airline travel was actually fun. Snacks & food were great. Airlines gave you real metal pins! We watched my sisters plane take off back to college at Newark airport from outside along the tarmac! And there was no daily talk of despots like Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin destroying another country, causing a chain of global chaos. No one would dare storm the Capitol. And no constant worry about climate change. Seasons were reliable warm, cold; September was cooler and it stayed cold till winter was over. Taking all this away, it’s easy to see why people are unhappier now than in earlier decades.
spud (NC)
@rhymz And there were other issues. MLK, Medgar Evers, Malcom X were murdered. And two Kennedys as well. The Cuban Missile Crisis. no, not idyllic.
Mary Smith (Riverside, CA)
@Bon Toll While us kids growing up at that time may have thought it idyllic, I doubt my folks would have agreed. Massive inflation and wage stagnation. My dad was laid off from a long-time job in the late 1970s at a manufacturing plant just before reaching 20 years and a good pension. Remember "stagflation"? And I seem to remember some pretty nasty serial murderers got their start during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Yes, I do remember playing outside well into the golden hour, stealing mulberries off a neighbor's tree, and roller skates that required a key, but the rumblings of the problems we are swimming in today, surely were already afoot.
rhymz (U.S.)
@Bon Toll no so sure it was all idyllic then. They forced hysterectomies on large numbers of native American women as just one example of inequities then
Kenneth Brady (Staten Island)
Are the flora and fauna whose are destroyed and who are on pathways toward extinction included in the polls? Of course not! We are so so anthropocentric.
Ari Platt (NYC)
it's actually simple- the less religious we become, the less happy we are. if there is no god, it's hard for the vast majority of us to find meaning in our short lives. very hard. it all feels pretty meaningless. also- religion fosters community, which improves happiness.
Anthony (Washington State)
@Ari Platt Ari, Ari, your post gave me pause. I've been a Christian for fifty years, and want desperately to push that recommend button for your thoughts. What stops me? The rise of a neo-fascism which twists the words of Christ for a political end. Sadly, the rise of that movement is producing its own sadness, rage and divisiveness, and alienating people from the faith that should be giving them comfort. I don't know you, what you believe, or if you're a resister to that rising pseudo-Christian group. I pray that you are not. I do know that until the churches in America remove themselves from the politics of hate, faith and religion will not bring comfort.
Nolapdog (Australia)
@Ari Platt Bust religion has also been the cause of many wars. Religion, like politics, has many different flavors.
pechenan (Boston)
@Anthony Thank you for standing up for authentic Christian values in the face of those who would exploit religion to further their political gains.
Sam (Minneapolis)
For me, I grapple with the existential dread of what is going to obviously be a climate extinction event. That this was not solved when we had the opportunity is just horrific and tells you everything you need to know about people’s inability to prioritize. It’s like how it must feel to constantly live beyond your means - you’re ok now but you know that at some point you won’t be and that point is inevitable.
Ari Platt (NYC)
Extinction?? Lol. Are you serious? After all the earth went through- ice age, warning, cooling, meteors, floods, tectonic plates moving etc etc etc….after all those billions of years, NOW we go extinct? Because the early is 2 degrees warmer? Nothing we can do about it? Zero? Hopeless? Wow.
Duncan Lively (Ventura, CA)
A thousand or so words to explain the predictable consequences of the ever-widening wealth gap.
Wanda Pena (San Antonio TX)
In this rapidly changing world of widening inequality and rapid tech advances that allow us to see more of the world at our fingertips, and to experience the often discordant commentary about it, comparison is truly the thief of joy. I have to keep that in my head and be thankful for what I have and where I live. All the while doing all I can to fight against the anti-progressive, anti-humanitarian, anti-truth forces that would take us all back to much darker times due to fear, ego, misplaced nostalgia, willingness to be mislead despite the truth being readily available, and hostility toward democratic processes because the “wrong” people are voting. I am old enough to know that life for a minority woman 60 years ago was not much above the status of property and what it was like to have to use the “right” facilities. I will not have my joy or that of my daughters and granddaughters dragged back to the mid-1950’s to assuage any group of thieves sense of victimhood.
Andrew Duff (Vermont)
In health care, we would call it "multi-system failure". Too many things going off the rails at the same time. In my quest for a unified theory of the human experience, I find humans to be a great disappointment. We fail to see ourselves as the primitive beasts we continue to be. Still being bullied by the "silver back", the loudest, most violent, and cunning male in the tribe. So much intellectual potential pushed to the sidelines in service of those who can't get enough.
noplanetb (Duesseldorf, Germany)
@Andrew Duff I'm a wildlife conservationist and silverbacks', the leaders of the gorilla troops (groups), main duty is to protect members of his family. Protect, not harass. I see what you're trying to say, but primates don't bully their own, and this was unfortunately a very bad analogy. Wild animals are not primitive beasts, they actually care a lot for their own, from primates - just yesterday, I've seen a study and footage of a male alpha chimpanzee adopting a female chimpanzee orphan out of pure compassion in the wild, as he wasn't related to the orphan and by whose adoption he stood to gain nothing) to even reptiles.
Bowden (New York)
What about those who view happiness as intrinsically individual thing? That we make our own choices and as such are responsible [read: accountable] for our own happiness... Or, you can keep staring into your smart phone for all the answers.
RDePuy (Palenville, NY)
@Bowden the old happiness is a choice response. I can only be responsible for how I conduct myself. I believe that. I also know that I spent six years caring for my middle aged partner of 25 years. He was one of the greatest gifts in my life, and I chose the path of love and compassion. It was grueling, for both of us. You tell me how one can be happy while watching a loved one screaming in pain. How I should feel when my 89-year-old father commits suicide in the midst of the above-mentioned crisis. Confined by covid, watching so much deteriorate, vast swaths of friends exposed as racist, greedy, followers of a demonic narcissist who tried to overturn the government. All I could do was hope for better days, be grateful for all the good things in my life and not collapse in grief. I made choices based on the facts as they were presented, I don't know what I could have done differently to make those times happy.
Chris (Huntsville)
@Bowden We do not live in a vacuum. We all are affected by everything and everyone around us. You cannot be happy if you're surrounded by suffering.
Bowden (New York)
I understand your point @Chris and yet the Dali Lama and the late Mother Theresa might disagree...
Charles Que (Kansas)
I take responsibility for my own life and live one day at a time.
Charles Que (Kansas)
@Alice Hoquet Dear Alice....I do absolutely none of the above mentioned items
Betsy (Idaho)
How to be happy- be glad for what you have, not what you want. Get outside every single day and walk, and if it works for you, get a DOG. Pretty simple rules and they work for me. Oh, be leery of people who don’t like dogs and avoid social media.
J Peterman (New England)
@Betsy Would a cat also be OK? The neighbor has one who comes over to visit me every day. Really lifts my spirits.
W.B. (WA)
@Betsy 100 million dogs in this country now, 21 million pandemic pets purchased. We'll be right as rain any day, eh, Betsy?
Al (Suburban Phila.)
Many years ago in debates, a common theme was the evolution of denier-ism. - It's not happening, it's a Marxist hoax. The climate is changing but it's not human caused. - Humans might be changing the climate, but it won't be bad, and carbon dioxide helps crops grow faster. - Humans might be changing the climate, but market forces will stop it from getting that bad. - Humans might be changing the climate, but we can engineer our way out of it. - Humans have changed the climate, we can adapt. - Humans have changed the climate but there's nothing we can do about it. There was something we could have done about it, if we would have listened to scientists and environmentalists 50 YEARS AGO. Thanks for nothing.
Al (Suburban Phila.)
@Al Posted this to the wrong article, but sort of applies anyway.
pechenan (Boston)
@Al Definitely applies here.
Dwight McFee (Toronto)
Sadness? Thanks to ‘exceptionalism’, ‘city on a hill’, ‘we own north and south and Central America?’ Expectations David. You present the myth, tell everyone they are part of it and then proceed to sanction class theft, racist whistles and front for the corporates who are feeding the myth while walking off with mega unearned income. Example: check out the mega profits of the oil companies. Yup, sad alright. People with high profiles lamenting their legacy.
bemused (ct.)
@Dwight McFee David Brooks never had a callous yet, he turned out that way without even knowing it. There's the rub.
Cathykent (Oregon)
I believe the main reason why we are so unhappy and self medicate is the realization of all the lies, the ones we tell ourselves, we were told, we counted on and we believed in…..lies
JBC (Indianapolis)
It is hard to be very happy when daily around the world you see: • political leaders with right wing and autocratic tendencies rising to power; • more global influence being concentrated in the hands of a very limited number of white men whose morals and intentions are highly suspect; and • the increasingly devastating effects of climate change. Contemplating any of these, let alone the myriad of other issues one encounters just getting by in life, and you can quickly spiral into a sense of hopelessness to determine your own destiny.
Greg (Duluth)
Don’t be such a downer, Dave! After all, you and your buddies believe that corporations are people, and corporations are doing very well these days.
Hugh Jones (Usa)
The Rising Tide of Global Sadness... .... is caused by media articles like this one, but only when people allow the news to affect them personally. Every day, around the globe, billions of people actually have good things in their lives: families, good fortune at work, good health. However, the job of the news, in order to sell digital subscriptions and advertising from corporate overlords, are there every minute, literally, to try to appeal to the human quirk of our evolution that makes us pay attention to scary things. Anyone who buys into this game is a fool.
XXX (Somewhere in the U.S.A.)
No matter what our other problems are, we all would feel a lot better without the anxiety-provoking, depressing spectre of fascism -- here, in Brazil, in India, in Eastern Europe, in China (yes, China is a fascist country), in Israel, in Turkey, in Russia, everywhere. In Ukraine we see the tragic product of Russian fascism. Here, if the Republicans get control of Congress, expect to see people "disappeared" they way they were in Argentina and Chile in the '80s. Or like Russia and China now. Not only would we have less fear, we would have an easier life, as the corrupt powerful would extract a smaller share of society's total resources. Defeat fascism, and all other problems, physical and mental, will be more tractable.
charles corcoran (stillwater mn)
The invisible elephant in the room is COVID! Globally. More isolation. More inequality. Negative physical and mental outcomes everywhere
Ambient Kestral (Southern California)
People, especially in the US, have totally lost any sense of what ‘enough’ is. Ever since Reagan, quite specifically, nothing is ever enough. Sorry, surprise! Greed is NOT good.
B (MO)
We are not all equal. The wealthy have an outsize influence on our world and our politics, so we are not voting equally. That can be a major source of frustration. Social media has exposed all of this disparity, and now the ignorant masses can read about how well off others are, what they have and enjoy, and can see that they aren't getting any piece of the pie. That would be depressing to me. If you don't have hope, you can be in a bad place.
rich (nj)
" Counties in the United States that saw the largest gain in voting Republican for president between the 2012 election and Donald Trump’s election in 2016 were also the counties where people rated their lives the worst." It would not surprise anyone if people in those counties rate their lives as worse even after four years of their "savior" being the White House. It would never occur to them that education and learning new skills will improve their lives. They would rather play the victim card, blame "elites" and consume quantities of booze and pills that literally kills them.
Paul G Knox (Philadelphia)
Capitalism is to blame. Rich people are to blame. Capitalism is the system. Rich people control it. They don’t share anything.They run everything. They want it all. Analyze that and get back to me.
Chris (Midwest)
Certainly in the US, many people are putting fearful and angry politics ahead of all else in their lives. That isn't going to be too much of a pick-me-up for those folks.
Daveish (CT)
Hate is extreme unhappiness and there is so much hate around being endlessly nurtured (if that word applies to hate) by the various internet echo chambers. And people everywhere are being dIrected to not only hate each other, but the very earth we live and breath on. It’s this disconnection from the wider community of humans and our fellow creatures, plants, fungi, etc., that can only lead to unhealthy and unhappy people. Ironically, rural folks often live in direct opposition to nature, working or supporting huge factory farms that have less biodiversity than many urban parking lots. Find some more things to love (perhaps a needy neighbor or a type of bird) and you might find a way to more happiness. This has political overtones - leaders that bring people together foster happiness; leaders that divide foster unhappiness.
See also