The World Happiness Report indicates a notable decline in happiness within the United States, with young adults reporting significantly lower levels of happiness compared to older Americans.

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Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, director of the University of Oxford’s Wellbeing Research Center and an editor of the report, told The Washington Post that the findings are concerning “because youth well-being and mental health is highly predictive of a whole host of subjective and objective indicators of quality of life as people age and go through the course of life.”

De Neve told The Washington Post youth are now starting at a lower level of well-being compared to adults. “And that’s very disconcerting, because essentially it means that they’re at the level of their midlife crisis today and obviously begs the question of what’s next for them.”

Why are young people unhappy?

The Washington Post reported COVID-19, loneliness, social media use, high housing prices, polarization and health issues could all play a role in the decrease of happiness in young individuals.

COVID-19

According to a study published by the National Library of Medicine in 2023, COVID-19 negatively impacted mental health, developmental milestones and self and interpersonal relationships in young individuals.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned parents that COVID-19 impacted young adults’ social, emotional and mental well-being.

“Trauma faced at this developmental stage may have long-term consequences across their lifespan,” the CDC said.

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Loneliness

A study published by the National Library of Medicine said young adults are the loneliest demographic in the U.K. and Western countries. The study found loneliness arose from:

  • Feeling one does not matter, is not understood or unable to express oneself.
  • Challenges of social media and materialism.
  • Pressure of work.
  • Pressure of fitting in and social comparison.
  • Transitionary stages such as breakups, loss of significant others, education and employment.

Social media use

According to Purdue University, social media is harmful to well-being because it:

  • Creates anxiety due to the fear of missing out (FOMO).
  • Triggers negative feelings because of comparison.
  • Creates unrealistic standards of beauty and success, lowering sense of self-worth and esteem.

In a study on young individuals and social media, the Pew Research Center found:

  • Individuals are likely to say social media has a negative impact on others and not themselves.
  • Individuals are likely to report positive experiences rather than negative experiences about social media.
  • Individuals believe others should face criminal charges or bans for the bullying and harassment found on social media.
  • Individuals, especially older girls, avoid posting certain things on social media for fear and embarrassment.
  • Many individuals believe they have little control to what information companies collect on them.
  • Individuals believe parents are not worried about their social media usage.
  • Almost half of parents with teens worry their child will be exposed to explicit content. on social media.

Per the Pew Research Center, though not all young individuals found that social media negatively affected them, the rates of usage are high.

According to The Washington Post, young adults may also see misinformation intensified by social media, causing unhappiness.

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High housing prices

Previously reported by the Deseret News, “As home prices remain high despite today’s high mortgage rate, an affordable starter home is becoming essentially extinct. ... The income needed to afford a home has increased rapidly over the last several years and wages have not kept pace...”

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According to CNBC News, homeownership is still a “top hallmark of achieving the so-called American Dream.”

However, high prices, not being able to afford a down payment and insufficient income are reasons individuals cannot buy a home, per CNBC News.

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Political Polarization

According to a study published by the National Library of Medicine, political polarization has caused declining mental and physical health.

Gallup also found political polarization lowers compromise, has sociological impacts and causes distrust or anger.

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Health issues

Per Education Week, young individuals’ stress, anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide has risen.

According to a report, published by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, young adults in the U.S. have increased anxiety and depression. The driving force behind young adults’ mental health challenges include:

  • A lack of meaning, purpose and direction.
  • Financial worries and achievement pressure.
  • Belief that the world is falling apart.
  • Relationship problems.
  • Social and political issues.
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