joshua rawson harris md7cCWYVq9U unsplash 715a6

Apparently Americans Were Much Happier 50 Years Ago

by Evi Arthur

The United States has been a little bit of a dumpster fire recently.

Between the pandemic, the innocent Black lives being taken, the revolution, and the wit of Gen Z, who pranked the president over the weekend, things are starting to feel more like a dystopian novel than real life.

Interestingly enough, it seems that the American public seems to agree, with a new survey finding that we’re the unhappiest we’ve been in five decades.

The COVID Response Tracking Study surveyed 2,279 Americans over 18 years old between May 21 and 29 in order to find out how the pandemic has affected the public in a social, psychological and economic context. The study, done by NORC at the University of Chicago, was combined with prior research from NORC’s General Social Survey, which began in 1972, that studies trends and changes in the American public’s behavior and attitudes.

The study showed that only 14 percent of Americans say that they’re “very happy,” down from 31 percent in 2018. However, 23 percent say they’re “not too happy,” up from 13 percent in 2018.

Moreso, we are more lonely than ever, with the percentage of those who say they feel they often “lack companionship” jumping since 2018, increasing from 10 percent to 18 percent.

Fewer people are optimistic about what the future will look like for the next generation. Only 42 percent of those surveyed said that the standard of living would be better for the next generation. This is the lowest answer since the question was first asked in 1994.

These are some of the biggest drops in morale since 1972 when the survey began. In 1972, 30 percent of respondents said they were “very happy” and 17 percent said they were “not too happy.” In 2020, 14 percent are “very happy” and 23 percent are “not too happy.”

For context, in 1972, the Vietnam War was ending, the Watergate Scandal was beginning, and America was smack dab in the middle of the Cold War.

Funnily enough, when looking through a list of the big events that year, some of them seem pretty familiar.

March 1972 was when carvings of confederates Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson — the confederate president and two generals — were completed at Stone Mountain, Georgia. The sculptor Gutzon Borglum, who also did Mount Rushmore, was a noted white supremacist and often aligned himself with the Klu Klux Klan, although it was never confirmed if he was an official member or not, according to The Smithsonian. It’s important to note that this monument was completed a full 107 years after the end of the Civil War.

Now, we’re watching statues of white supremacists and confederates being torn down and dumped into harbors by protestors (as they should be) and others being officially removed. 

March 22, 1972, the Equal Rights Amendment was sent by Congress to the states for ratification. Although the proposition only requires one more state to become an amendment, it still has not been ratified. However, more people are aware of it thanks to shows like Hulu’s “Mrs. America,” which tells the story of the women both for and against the step toward equality in the ’70s.

July 1972, United States health officials admitted that Black men were used as test subjects in the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments and the experiment was shut down. In this 40-year experiment, 600 poor Black men were used, willingly but ill-informed, to find out what would happen if syphilis went untreated — despite the fact that a treatment for syphilis, penicillin, became available 15 years after the start of the experiment. The experiment went on for 40 years and resulted in the deaths of 128 and the passage of the disease to at least 59 spouses and children of subjects, according to

Since the death of George Floyd on May 25, there have been worldwide protests and widespread activism insisting on an end to the senseless killings of Black Americans by the police. The Black Lives Matter movement has garnered mass support from figures all over the world.

Although the new developments do nothing to excuse the injustice of the past, maybe we’re at a turning point. Perhaps most Americans are unhappy simply because we’re making change, which, although necessary and long overdue, can be hard and tiring at first.

Although the terrifying and deadly pandemic definitely isn’t helping morale.


Header image: Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash


More from BUST

These Women Comedians’ Responses To The Pandemic Offer Some Much Needed Laughter

We Need To Tear Down Literally Every Single Confederate Monument Left In The United States

What We Can Learn From “Mrs. America” — And Why The ERA Fight Must Continue

You may also like

Get the print magazine.

The best of BUST in your inbox!

Subscribe to Our Weekly Newsletter

About Us

Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

©2023 Street Media LLC.  All Right Reserved.