Happiness has always been a very personal and individualized thing.

What floats your boat might sink another person’s. But I think being asked if you’re happy at this point in time should get a pretty much uniform answer.

And when the University of Chicago, as part of a COVID response tracking team, surveyed just under 2,300 people in late May, they found only 14% of respondents ranked themselves as being very happy. The university has conducted this poll about every two years since 1972 and the number of Americans who call themselves very happy has never dipped below 29%. In the last survey it was at 31%.

Everybody seemed surprised the number was only 14%. I’m surprised it wasn’t lower. Everything has pretty much turned upside down. There’s still a virus going around, unemployment is still high, nobody can get along with anybody and when you go out with a mask on, watching out for yourself and others, people look at you like they want to kick you.

From what I’ve observed through the years, a human’s default nature is to be unhappy. As the old saying goes, you’re born to die and if what happens in between those two events, the only two events that will ever really matter, isn’t to your liking, happiness isn’t something you’re going to be very familiar with.

Considering that at the best of times, nearly three quarters of us are not very happy, it shouldn’t be too surprising that this year, which seems determined to just be mean, almost 90% of us aren’t enjoying life.

The poll dug a little deeper and found:

• The public is less optimistic today about the standard of living improving for the next generation than it has been in the past 25 years. Only 42% of Americans believe that when their children reach their age, their standard of living will be better. A solid 57% said that in 2018. Since the question was asked in 1994, the previous low was 45% in 1994.

The old standard of living.

It’s supposed to improve from one generation to the next, but sometimes it doesn’t happen that way. You’re supposed to have a better life than, or at least equal to, your parents. Of course, going by that theory, after all these years, we should all be living in beach front condos in an area where it never gets cold. Unfortunately, I don’t hear any crashing waves.

• Compared with surveys conducted after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 and after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Americans are less likely to report some types of emotional and psychological stress reactions following the COVID-19 outbreak. Fewer report smoking more than usual, crying or feeling dazed now than after those two previous tragedies, though more report having lost their temper or wanting to get drunk.

National tragedies can bring us together or drive us apart and while COVID seems to be polarizing us (put on a mask; it’s a hoax), only time will tell what we really become because of it. But apparently we’re smoking less and not crying as much this time. Be thankful for small things, I suppose.

• About twice as many Americans report being lonely today as in 2018 and, not surprisingly given the lockdowns that tried to contain the spread of the coronavirus, there’s also been a drop in satisfaction with social activities and relationships.

Compared with 2018, Americans also are about twice as likely to say they sometimes or often have felt a lack of companionship (45% vs. 27%) and felt left out (37% vs. 18%) in the past four weeks.

Like happiness, loneliness is a very individual thing. I like the old saying about how I never feel alone when I’m by myself, but put me with a bunch of people and I’m lonelier than ever.

I’ve always thought our personalities determine how alone we are. If you need to talk, if you crave an audience, even if it’s just an audience of one, then having to “self isolate” is probably your worst nightmare. But if your idea of heaven is sitting alone on a front porch, watching the world go by, then this time may have just been made for you.

A lot of people are probably having existential crises right now, but Americans are good at imagining times will always get better.

True happiness is just right around the corner! We’re one break away from never having to worry about anything ever again!

Maybe. Or maybe we’re just one break away from really turning everything upside down. Either way, I hope you’re enjoying life.

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