There's no question that the COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating on multiple levels, and the upheaval in all of our lives has had an impact. But a new poll from Gallup shows that the U.S. in general is well into recovering from the worst of it, with more Americans reporting that they are "thriving" than at any point during the 13 years since Gallup started measuring.
Gallup's Live Evaluation Index measures how well Americans feel about their lives, asking people to rank their current and future life on a ladder scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being the worst possible life you could imagine for yourself and 10 being the best possible life you could imagine. Those who rank their current life at 7 or above and their future life at 8 or above are considered "thriving."
The percentage of Americans who are "thriving" reached 59.2% in June, eclipsing the previous high of 57.3% set in September 2017, and far exceeding the pandemic low of 46.4 in April 2020, which was tied for the lowest measurement during the financial crisis in November 2008.
Interestingly, the percentage of Americans who are estimated to be "suffering" according to the scale hasn't changed much during the pandemic. In June, 3.4% of respondents fell into the "suffering" category, which is in line with pre-COVID levels.
In addition to a spike in life satisfaction, levels of daily stress and worry have recovered to pre-COVID levels as well. According to Gallup:
"The percentage of people who reported experiencing significant stress and worry "a lot of the day yesterday" showed unprecedented increases in the first half of March 2020, with stress rising 14 percentage points to 60% and worry rising 20 points to 58%. These spikes were about four times greater than what was measured over the course of 2008 as a result of the Great Recession. Reports of experiencing these emotions have subsequently fallen to pre-pandemic levels in both cases. Daily stress eased to 45% in January and has remained in the mid-40s since, while daily worry has declined further since the start of the year, to just 38% in April through June, down from 43% in January."
Gallup also reports that "daily enjoyment" is up, though it hasn't yet recovered to pre-pandemic levels.
What does all of this mean? The most obvious and logical explanation is that the vaccine rollouts and economic numbers since the beginning of the year have given people a dose of hope and optimism. It may also have to do with the fact that most—not all, defintiely, but a majority of—Americans actually got richer during the pandemic.
Gallup also credits the fact that more of us are able to gather with friends and family again:
"Beyond the vaccination rollout and improving economic conditions, though, is the critical psychological benefit of renewed social interaction. Reuniting in person with family and friends and joining in large gatherings of people such as at sporting events is a crucial part of social wellbeing. Past research has shown that those who spend six to seven hours a day in social time experience about one-fifth the stress and worry on any given day as those with no social time at all. These effects are likely on display as the levels of these negative emotions have improved to pre-pandemic levels in recent months."
Of course, these rosy numbers don't mean all is well for everyone. Some people are still struggling with the economic and emotional impact of the pandemic, and some groups of people have been hit disproportionately hard by COVID-19. With 600,000+ Americans lost to the virus, millions of us are mourning loved ones, and despite jobs coming back, our unemployment numbers are still higher than we'd like them to be.
But the fact that more Americans say they're "thriving" than at any time over the past 13 years is a positive sign that the country is headed in the right direction.
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