Come on, get happy

     I’m not sure what the poll takers were thinking when they decided to conduct a “happiness poll” for the U.S. population. The COVID Response Tracking Study was set up to examine the social, psychological, and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on American society. The shocking results showed people in the U.S. are more unhappy today than they have been in the past 50 years. Go figure. The world is in the middle of a deadly virus pandemic. How happy can people be? 

     Results from the survey conducted by NORC (National Opinion Research Center) at the University of Chicago show 14% of American adults say they’re very happy, down from 31% who answered the same question in 2018. Back then, 23% said they often or sometimes felt isolated when the poll was taken. 50% of those polled say that now. And I have a feeling that percentage may be even higher than what was recorded in the poll. 

     I generally have a positive outlook on life (I keep telling myself that anyway). If someone asked me if I was happy, my first thought would be “yes”. If I thought about it longer, my response would have some conditions attached.

     Striving for happiness is hard in the times we live in. Before the Coronavirus pandemic brought the world to a halt, living was difficult enough. Most of us struggled with monthly bills, medical issues and family problems. That was an average day. Problems arose, and problems were dealt with. Life was a series of compromises moving toward the most positive outcome.

     The pandemic changed all that. The first few weeks of quarantine in mid-March changed my perspective. Life took on new meaning. Survival no longer meant having enough money for grocery shopping and paying the mortgage. Survival meant not dying. 

     If I took a “happiness poll” during those first days of state-issued quarantine, I’m sure I’d score an all-time low. I remember looking out my window from my home office, staring at the cloud covered gray sky, the empty streets, the stillness that permeated my once thriving town. I remember thinking, “this is it”. This is the future I’ll be spending my golden years in, a dystopian world devoid of my favorite pastimes – Friday night restaurants, going to the movies, and enjoying the football season. All of the things that made life more bearable were gone in an instant, with no warning. I couldn’t even mentally prepare for the drastic change. Maybe I was better off not having time to reflect on what we were all about to lose.

     Life couldn’t get any harder than this, or so I thought. Waves of social unrest sweeping the country added to the waves of COVID-19 we were already drowning in. The tsunami of social change and the flood of virus cases left me swirling in a sea of despair with no lifeline in sight. The fact that we are all in this together offers cold comfort.

     At age sixty-one, I’ve been fortunate enough to live for many years without experiencing major upheavals in my way of life. I was born in 1958 at a time in our country when things were looking up. The 1960’s brought civil unrest and revolution to the streets, but society survived, and emerged better on the other side. The 1970’s moved us toward a new age of enlightenment on many fronts. I was on the periphery of change and able to reap the benefits second hand. But current events are directly affecting my day to day life, and my internal well-being as well.

     So, am I happy? I’m trying to be, but it’s getting harder and harder to keep my chin up when the world around me is in a downward spiral. I am hopeful if I take this poll next year, my answer will be a lot different. I tried turning over a new leaf by asking my Alexa app to play feel-good music. In the uplifting song “Get Happy” by Judy Garland, she sings, “Pack up your troubles, come on get happy, chase all your cares away…”

     Look how well that turned out for her.

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