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Can Americans Be Happy Again?

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Can Americans Be Happy Again?


Reprinted with permission from Creators.

America is not a very happy place, and it is getting less so. Our downward trend in happiness precedes the election of Donald Trump, but sadly, there’s little in his agenda that would reverse this trend. On the contrary.

That’s because a boost in economic growth, though nice, wouldn’t get to where the trouble is. Per capita income is a factor in subjective well-being; make no mistake. However, it’s only one of six factors listed in the 2017 World Happiness Report, released by the United Nations.

The other five are life expectancy, social support, personal freedom, generosity of donations, and perceived corruption in government and business. America’s scores in these areas are all headed downhill.

“America’s crisis is, in short, a social crisis, not an economic crisis,” economist Jeffrey Sachs wrote in reviewing the report.

The happiest country is Norway, followed by Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Finland, the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia and Sweden in a tie. America’s 14th-place finish marks an ongoing deterioration. In 2007, the United States was the third-happiest country on the Cantril ladder.

“Income inequality has reached astronomical levels,” Sachs writes, “with the top 1 percent of American households taking home almost all of the gains in economic growth in recent decades, while the share of the bottom 50 percent plummets.”

The ills plaguing many of our Rust Belt and rural communities stem from increasing social isolation, as well as deteriorating economic status (especially painful when comparing with others). Struggling rural and factory towns are suffering losses in people, with their brightest and most accomplished children first to leave.

One cannot see how tax cuts aimed at the rich, paid for with cuts in federal social support programs — health coverage, above all — are going to add much joy to 99 percent of the population. Now, one could make the Trump/Paul Ryan argument that tax cuts would boost economic growth, the benefits of which would trickle down to ordinary folk.

There’s something to the notion that lower taxes can spur investment, but the questions remain: By how much? And who would benefit? George W. Bush oversaw the most ambitious tax cuts of his generation, and he left office with the American economy in a smoking ruin.

Government spending on such things as infrastructure and health care also stimulates the economy. In some of the most hurting parts of America, health care is the one bright economic light. What will happen if Trump and his allies go through with their plan to pull billions of federal dollars out of health care?

Using the happiness report’s measuring device, Sachs calculated how much economic growth would be needed to offset America’s recent decline in social support networks. To maintain the 2006 level of happiness, per-person GDP would have to rise to $82,000 from the current $53,000.

To offset the decline in happiness caused by deterioration of all four social variables (social support, freedom, donation, corruption), Sachs figured the per capita GDP would have to rise to $133,000 from the current $53,000. For comparison purposes, note that per-person GDP in the happier Nordic countries is $47,000, lower than ours.

But Americans don’t really need number crunchers to tell them that they’re feeling less happy with each passing year. What they need are political leaders who flatter them less but deliver policies that truly enhance their sense of well-being. Happily, Americans have the power to replace Trump and Ryan with leaders who can and will.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.


Froma Harrop

Froma Harrop’s nationally syndicated column appears in over 150 newspapers. Media Matters ranks her column 20th nationally in total readership and 14th in large newspaper concentration. Harrop has been a guest on PBS, MSNBC, Fox News and the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and is a frequent voice on NPR and talk radio stations in every time zone as well.

A Loeb Award finalist for economic commentary in 2004 and again in 2011, Harrop was also a Scripps Howard Award finalist for commentary in 2010. She has been honored by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and the New England Associated Press News Executives Association has given her five awards.

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  1. Ken Alpern June 3, 2017

    Yup…after eight years of a divisive President, and eight years of a media telling us all that things were GREAT, and after Bush gave us the Great Recession while his successor turned it into a Second Great Depression, I imagine that a lot of folks would be pretty miserable.

    1. Eleanore Whitaker June 3, 2017

      So correct. A bi racial president is automatically divisive right? Wake up! President Obama was NOT in any way divisive. YOU are a closet bigot because your post, subverts your need to hide your bigotry.

      President Obama was not the first to suggest healthcare reform. Hillary Clinton tried. But once again the GREAT WHITE MALE BS artists in government had to have their way and sideline it. Why? Simple. The GREAT WHITE MALES in the USA think red, white and blue are colors only WHITE men are supposed to be allowed to wear.

      Women are so fed up with the white male voices in this country that women are taking political positions in greater numbers than ever before. The group, “Indivisible” has a membership of more than half who are female.

      Educated women, unlike white boorish, racist males, who must always fight fight fight and divide and conquer, don’t look at the color of skin in the way the hot shot men do.

      Sorry but race is not a divisive factor as your post so subtly suggest.

      And if you boys do not stop this goddamn bullying of women, you will end up with an ALL female Congress. ooooooh and now doesn’t that one scare you boys?

      1. idamag June 3, 2017

        Before Hillary Clinton suggested healthcare reform, President, Dwight D Eisenhower tried to get it. That was back when there were Republicans who had compassion.

        1. dbtheonly June 3, 2017


          As I said, it only takes one to be divisive.

          Colonel Roosevelt suggested universal health care in 1912.

          1. FireBaron June 4, 2017

            And when Eisenhower and Teddy Roosevelt tried to suggest it they were shot down by the Midwestern Conservative Republicans. In TRs case, his former VP and later President William Howard Taft, in Ike’s case, his grandson, Bob Taft led the charges against reform.

        2. Eleanore Whitaker June 5, 2017

          The entire premise of the DayCare Generation who are now adults with vicious, nasty, mean spirited attitudes of gimme gimme what they learned as toddlers in daycare: Pushing, shoving, elbowing and dividing their peers.

          They are desperate to convince all of us who were well bred that wrong is right and right is wrong. All of course so they can lay back, mitts wide open and call themselves “conservatives.”

          Too bad too too many of us know what real conservatives were and what these pimps of Trump are not.

          Eisenhower must be rolling in his grave at a man like Trump.

          1. idamag June 5, 2017

            I am sure Reagan is too. And even though baby bush was a terrible president to get us into a war with a country that had nothing to do with 9-11, he has expressed his dismay.

          2. Eleanore Whitaker June 5, 2017

            I so agree. Reagan may not have been mentally lucid, but he at least was a man of honor. I never hated Bush ’43. I always make sure I know the background and history of those I vote for. I didn’t vote for Bush ’43 because I knew his history and didn’t believe he could be president without help from his father and Cheney, two men who were buddies since their days in the Nixon presidency.

            I didn’t need to do ANY background on Trump. We in the Metro area were inundated with his weekly outrageous acts and his intent to always have “his” way.

            Most Trump supporters think I didn’t and wouldn’t ever vote for him because of ideology. How wrong they are.

            I don’t vote for someone I know is sleazy, a low life, a liar and someone who can’t stop bullying and intimidating the world he lives in. Back in 1980 when he and the City of NY were at odds, his tactic then was based on what he said, “Fear is power.”

            Now, we are stuck with a nut who has all the intentions of keeping his place in the White House no matter how extreme he has to go to do it.

          3. dpaano June 5, 2017

            Hey, I went to daycare in the late 40’s, and I turned out okay. But, I do agree with you….many of our citizens have learned to be mean spirited, vicious, and nasty! Not sure where it came from, but it needs to be done away with!

        3. dpaano June 5, 2017

          That’s the ONE thing our current politicians seem to lack in great quantity! All they care about is money, getting re-elected, and how little they can do for their constituents!!

    2. idamag June 3, 2017

      Obama was not a divisive president. He tried hard to bring Congress together. They said, from the outset they would not work with him. Speaker of the House, Mitch McConnell’s exact words: “Our number one goal is to make Obama a one-term president.”

      1. dpaano June 5, 2017

        True, and now they complain because many Democrats refuse to work with Trump (for very good reasons other than just being divisive)!

    3. Poppycock.

    4. dpaano June 5, 2017

      I hope when you say “two devisive Presidents” you mean GWB and Reagan!

      1. 788eddie June 12, 2017

        How about GWB and tRump?

  2. dbtheonly June 3, 2017

    Our friend Aaron, can, no doubt, explain it better; but happiness is internal. Things don’t make you happy.

    Or as was otherwise said, “Happiness isn’t having what you want; it’s wanting what you have.”

    By the way, I’ll assert the President Obama wasn’t divisive on his part. If others chose to be divisive over his race, or politics; it’s not his fault or responsibility. You only need one to be divisive.

    1. idamag June 3, 2017

      Yes, happiness is internal, but why are so many people not happy?

      1. dbtheonly June 3, 2017

        Aaron would say it’s a lack of spiritual progression. I certainly wouldn’t disagree, as I have no good answer of my own.

        To your Mormon friends, I’d say they find satisfaction in their spiritual life. Reinforcing those beliefs in a large group is a source of satisfaction. No fair mentioning the Nuremberg Rallies.

        Advertising, capitalism, teaches us to want what we don’t have. Are Free Enterprise and happiness incompatible? I don’t like where that leads either.

        1. dpaano June 5, 2017

          It certainly doesn’t help our “happiness” quotient when we get up every morning and have to read or listen to another idiotic thing that our leaders have done to undermine our nation and its democracy! So much BS going on in Washington, D.C…..it’s disheartening to say the least, and I can honestly say, it’s also stressful to those of us who really care about this country. I’m often just one tweet away from throwing a book at the TV some mornings! It’s NOT a great way to greet the day when you have to worry about whether or not your social security is going to be cut, you will lose your healthcare, your water will be polluted, your Muslim and Latino friends will be harassed or deported by anyone who is a racist, and I could go on! How can anyone be happy with the country running the way it is? I’m at a loss on this one!

          1. dbtheonly June 5, 2017


            You’ve hit the key question. If “things” can’t make you happy; can they make you unhappy?

            I assert they can’t. I understand that things are bad. Very bad. And probably worse for others than you and I. But happiness is our response to those outside problems. We can choose to let them get us down. Or we can remain positive and fight back.

            My big concern is that Trump has oversold his ability to do, well anything, and the disillusionment among his supporters will be great. Trump’s trying to blame the “dark state” for his failures isn’t helping either. As it is, we’ve got a major opioid addiction problem. People just tuning out. Take away the hope that Trump brought?

    2. Sharondwood June 4, 2017

      Google is paying 97$ per hour! Work for few hours and have longer with friends & family! !mj211d:
      On tuesday I got a great new Land Rover Range Rover from having earned $8752 this last four weeks.. Its the most-financialy rewarding I’ve had.. It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it
      ➽➽;➽➽ http://GoogleFinancialJobsCash211TopLogPay$97Hour ★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★:::::!mj211d..,…

  3. 1standlastword June 3, 2017

    The modern cultural climate of America has never been conducive to a collective national sense of happiness. Chiefly because America is heterogeneous and policy is always skewed to the dominant members of the culture. The Scandinavian countries today are significantly less happy since they have become less homogeneous and resources less abundant . The combination of resources, population characteristics and policy are the most powerful determinates of happiness. I think whites in America were the happiest when they had all the space, resources and control of policy. That was a few hundred years our American Civil War

  4. idamag June 3, 2017

    The topic started me thinking. We are not a happy people. The only time we exhibit a strong sense of community is when we are attacked. I feel like I am a happy person. I celebrate diversity and feel lucky that that I have had the experience. Other people have been trained to be suspicious of other people. I remember an incident that happened in the 50s. I live in Mormon country. 85% in my community and 92% in a small community north of here. I am not sure if it is twice a year or more often, but the Mormons go to their mecca (Salt Lake City, Utah) to listen to faith reinforcing speeches all day long. I asked a Mormon co-worker how conference was. She got this beautific look on her face and said it was wonderful. She said when they sat down, some Mormon converts from India came and sat down beside them. She said, “We got up and moved. You never can tell.”

    1. dpaano June 5, 2017

      Yeah, the Mormons are not the pious people they seem to be. They are more racist than most other religions, and it’s sad!

  5. Aaron_of_Portsmouth June 4, 2017

    It is not only my opinion, but what is felt by many across the world, is that the overall decline in happiness and well-being correlates directly with an increase in materialism and focusing on self-gratification and survival.
    Along with that is a corresponding decrease in emphasis on developing and cultivating spiritual values. Since spiritual concepts are being drowned out by noise from FOX, the GOP, Trump and Trumpism, racism, and nationalism, the chances of spirituality gaining
    prominence are slim.

    And no where on the planet is this dynamic and dysfunction as obvious as in America.

  6. dpaano June 5, 2017

    This is sooo true! When you see CEOs of big companies getting gigantic raises while the rest of their employees get little or no raises each year….it’s grim! And, when you see our president go overseas and make a total ass of himself to the detriment of this country….that’s also a factor! We needed a president who realized that the middle class runs this nation and needs to be taken care of BEFORE the billionaires! Unfortunately, we didn’t get that and the Trump voters will fare worse than those of us who realized it BEFORE he was elected! They will be the ones that will suffer the most from his lies! I just hope that they realize this before 2018 or 2020, but seemingly, there are still many who just don’t see the forest for the trees no matter WHAT this idiot does to our nation and our democracy!


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