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A study done by the Gallup Organization has captured Dr. Thia’s attention. Dr. Thia is MPower Co’s Director of Education and specialist in the area of positive psychology. The recent study captured her attention and inspired this article to encourage us to strive for thriving! 

The Gallup survey was conducted in June – just a couple of months ago.  Frankly, it is both surprising and encouraging to read the results of the survey, which happened during a time when COVID, and especially the delta variant, is challenging us to double down on our efforts to stay well individually, as a community, nation and world.

How would you evaluate your life?

I will report their collective findings at the end of the article.  The survey used the Cantril Scale developed in 1965.  This simple measure has stood the test of time and has been used by Gallup in more than 150 countries and in the United States over many years.

The Cantril Scale uses two measures – where you are today and where you think you will be in five years. The following is the survey that was sent out. Consider how you would have answered the survey: 

Instructions: 

  •  Please imagine a ladder with steps numbered from zero at the bottom to 10 at the top.
  • The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you, and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you.

Questions:

  1. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time? This is your present rating ____.
  2. On which step do you think you will stand about five years from now? This is your future rating ____.

Categorization of Results

Gallup formed three distinct (and independent) groups for research and reporting purposes:

Thriving — well-being that is strong, consistent, and progressing. These respondents have positive views of their present life situation (7+) and have positive views of the next five years (8+). They report significantly fewer health problems, fewer sick days, less worry, stress, sadness, anger, and more happiness, enjoyment, interest, and respect.

Struggling — well-being that is moderate or inconsistent. These respondents have moderate views of their present life situation OR moderate OR negative views of their future. They are either struggling in the present, or expect to struggle in the future. They report more daily stress and worry about money than the “thriving” respondents, and more than double the number of sick days. They are more likely to smoke, and are less likely to eat healthy.

Suffering — well-being that is at high risk. These respondents have poor ratings of their current life situation (4 and below) AND negative views of the next five years (4 and below). They are more likely to report lacking the basics of food and shelter, more likely to have physical pain, a lot of stress, worry, sadness, and anger. They have less access to health insurance and care, and more than double the disease burden, in comparison to “thriving” respondents.

2020 Thriving Results – not good

For obvious reasons, 2020 was characterized by a severe drop in current life satisfaction ratings. By late April, the percentage of U.S. adults who rated their current lives a “7” or higher had plunged about 11 percentage points to 46.4%, even as the anticipated life satisfaction five years forward had improved. This percentage tied the record low, which was measured during the Great Recession in 2008 and 2009. 

The percentage of people who reported experiencing significant stress and worried “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. 

Summer of 2021 – Thriving Reaches Record High Amongst Americans

The percentage of Americans who evaluate their lives well enough to be considered “thriving” on Gallup’s Life Evaluation Index reached 59.2% in June, the highest in over 13 years of ongoing measurement and exceeding the previous high of 57.3% from September 2017. 

Notably, even as current life satisfaction has increased in recent months, anticipated life satisfaction remains elevated compared with pre-COVID levels. The rapid recovery of current life satisfaction, coupled with the sustained elevated level of anticipated life satisfaction, has fueled the thriving percentage to its current heights.

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.

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.

Significant daily enjoyment has also markedly improved, although to a lesser degree than the declines seen in worry and stress. In 2018-2019, about 80% of U.S. adults reported significant enjoyment the day before, which plunged to 61% at the onset of the pandemic. By June, enjoyment was back up to 73% of the adult population.

Lessons and Conclusions on Thriving

  • The data presented by Gallup comparing 2020 with 2021 thus far suggests that people are amazingly resilient and able to rebound.  Perhaps it is true that what doesn’t kill us can make us stronger.  
  • Don’t be surprised if you assessment of your own well-being feels like being a bit on a roller coaster ride. We are in a time of weathering the storm.
  • Positive psychology states that how you see your world is your reality.  It is the lens through which you interpret your well-being.  You are the expert about your life.
  • The health focus needs to be on physical distancing, NOT on social distancing.  There is a critical psychological benefit of renewed social interaction that we were starting to enjoy in June.  Our current situation indicates we need to rethink this, however.  Consider how you can be emotionally connected to others without being in the same room or within six feet of each other.  
  • Other pieces of research provide insights.  Focusing on what you still have and what you still enjoy can help to weather through.  Counting your blessings and being thankful are additional resilience strategies for the times.
  • It will be interesting to watch for additional reporting by Gallup over time. These measures will vary, depending on COVID and other major changes. 

Want More on Positive Psychology? 

Focusing on thriving, and using strategies to increase your happiness is what positive psychology is all about. It is about the science of increasing well-being. Dr. Thia is a trailblazer in providing useful, research based methods for increasing happiness.

Ready to read another article by Dr. Thia on a positive psychology topic? Head over to a recent article by her on generosity. Learn how being generous can improve your life, not just the life of the person you are being generous to! 

If you want to do a deep dive into increasing your happiness and overall well-being, head over to the course page for Happiness Habitudes.  Dr. Thia has written this eight unit, online course, that does a deep dive into eight topics related to positive psychology. There is more information over on the course page about how the course works, what information it covers and more! 

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