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Why Americans Are Less Happy Than Ever Before

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ICYMI, Norway is officially the happiest country in the world, according to the 2017 World Happiness Report, (knocking Denmark off its throne after a three-year reign). The Scandinavian nation also edged out other countries such as Iceland and Switzerland. These countries generally take the top spots, so no major surprises there, but one country that didn't fare so well? The United States, which was ranked number 14 overall. Perhaps that's why there's an entire section in the report dedicated to how to restore American happiness (whomp, whomp), with some suggested reasons and solutions outlined. (BTW, these are just 25 of the health perks of being happy.)

Researchers looked at many factors to determine overall happiness.

One of the lead researchers, Jeffrey D. Sachs, Ph.D., a professor at Columbia University and a special advisor to the United Nations Secretary General, cites other research showing that among the world's richest countries, America's happiness dropped from number three in 2007 to number 19 in 2016. That's a pretty big drop. Overall, the report explains that though there's a big focus on boosting economic growth in the U.S., the data collected reveals the real problem lies in social issues like community relationships, wealth distribution, and the education system. In order to get a deeper understanding of the factors at play, researchers looked at stats that generally determine the happiness of a nation, like per capita income, social support, freedom to make life choices, generosity of donations, healthy life expectancy, and the perceived corruption of government and businesses. While the U.S. has gotten a boost in per-capita income and life expectancy, all of the other factors took nosedives during the last 10 years. (It's important to note, however, that just in the last year, the country has actually seen a small but concerning decline in life expectancy.) After thorough analysis, here are the specific reasons, according to the report, that Americans are less happy than ever—plus how experts believe the outlook can be fixed.

So, why are Americans so sad?

The report often discusses U.S. politics. And coming off a seriously stressful election cycle, it makes total sense that the country's political happenings are a huge factor in determining Americans' happiness. Essentially, the report says that there's a feeling of distrust of the government among everyday Americans, which has been brewing for decades and is now reaching a boiling point. The report theorizes that many Americans feel that only the wealthiest people and those with influence are able to make their voices heard. And data proves that the rich—and only the rich—are getting richer. With only a small number of people actually living in that upper echelon, this disparity only contributes to the country's overall unhappiness. The researchers suggest that reforming campaign finance regulations in an effort to make it harder for the wealthy elite to have this kind of power over the public policy could help. (On the upside, apparently you can use your political frustrations to help meet your weight-loss goals. Who knew?)

Community relationships also need some help. Research has shown that the most diverse communities in the U.S. have the lowest levels of social trust. Social trust basically means that you believe in the honesty, integrity, and good intentions of your community. Pretty disheartening that people aren't feeling this way, right? You can probably see why this is problematic since feeling able to depend on others is a big contributor to happiness. Plus, Americans are feeling afraid more often—with the constant threat of terrorism, political turmoil, and ongoing military action in foreign countries all playing a role. The report recommends effort on the part of the government to improve relations between native-born and immigrant populations, which could help people establish more social trust in their communities and feel less fearful of others with dissimilar views. (FYI, a recent study showed that U.S. patients treated by foreign-educated doctors have lower mortality rates.)

Lastly, the education system is experiencing serious growing pains. College is expensive and getting more so every year. At the same time, the number of young Americans earning their bachelor's degree has stayed the same for the past 10 years (at around 36 percent). The report says that the fact that higher education is inaccessible for so many is a far-reaching problem affecting not only happiness but the economy.

Taking an active role in your happiness and community can help.

"The United States offers a vivid portrait of a country that is looking for happiness 'in all the wrong places,'" write researchers. "The country is mired in a roiling social crisis that is getting worse. Yet the dominant political discourse is all about raising the rate of economic growth." Yikes. So what can you do? Number one, stay informed about what's going on in your country, and two, stay engaged and involved. Don't be timid about talking to people who have different opinions, and advocate for social changes that you believe in—you could even represent with your nail art. Let's come together as Americans to move toward being a happier and thus healthier nation.

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