TIME Poll: What Makes Americans Happy?

In a new poll, we look at what Americans do to pursue fulfillment and happiness and what makes them unhappy—from gathering likes on social media to getting a divorce. Their answers might surprise you.

  • Share
  • Read Later

For our happiness issue, TIME conducted a poll to find out what Americans do to find joy. Overall, 59% of respondents said they were happy most of the time, about the same percentage of those surveyed by TIME in 2004 when 61% said they were happy.  But fewer people said they considered themselves optimists in 2013, 50%, as compared to 2004 when  79%  called themselves optimists.

We also learned  that most of us believe it’s possible to become happier, even though the overall happiness of the nation hasn’t changed all that much in the last 30 years. We also found that most of us believe that our friends and followers on social media make themselves look happier and more successful and more attractive on their profiles than they really are, but that our own profiles accurately portray how we really are.  And the survey found that a majority of women say they do think they have found a balance between their work and personal lives.

Check out other results of our poll, which was conducted June 17-19, 2013.

Social Media: Are You as Happy as You Look on Facebook?

The biggest change since 2004—when TIME last commissioned a happiness poll—has been the advent of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, which didn’t exist 9 years ago.

Today, 38% of the people TIME polled reported that browsing social media sites like Facebook picks up their mood. However, 60% said that going on social media did not change their level of happiness. And while many of us check to see how many “likes”  one our social media posts gets, Democrats surveyed in our poll were more affected by the response they get on Facebook and other social sites. When asked if their mood or image of themselves had ever changed due to the number of “likes” they received on a post on a social media site, only 29% of Republicans responded yes, compared to 64% of Democrats.

Meanwhile, 76% of those surveyed believed that other people portrayed themselves as happier, more successful and more attractive than they really are on their social media profiles. However, 78% of those surveyed said that their own Facebook profile showed them as they truly are.

(Read our Happiness of Pursuit cover story and take our poll here. )

Marriage and Relationships

Men were slightly happier about matrimony than women. 86% of women reported being happier as the result of getting married, as opposed to 95% of men. And more women than men said that they became happier after a divorce —92% compared to 86%.

Meanwhile, slightly more men than women were likely to seek out sex, a romantic partner, or an affair outside the marriage in order to improve their mood.

What Women Want

More women pray or meditate, seek spiritual enrichment, see a therapist or a mental health professional, take antidepressants and buy weight loss products or enroll in a diet program in order to try to achieve happiness than their male counterparts. Yet despite all these efforts, more women report to label themselves as pessimists since the economic downturn—42% versus 38%.

In a similar vein, we  asked our poll-takers whether they had ever had a second child to increase their happiness. We followed up by asking whether, in retrospect, that major life change did increase their overall happiness. While 99% of men responded that they were happier as the result of having a second child, only 85% of women said they felt the same way.

However, a whopping 64% of female respondents said they felt their work and personal lives were balanced. Only 52% of men could make the same claim. So maybe professional women can have it all, after all.

Youth and Optimism

When asked if it was possible to make yourself happier or if you are just born with a certain level of happiness, 94% of those aged 18-34 believed that they could become happier. As the age intervals increased, the percentages who shared that optimism dropped to 82% for 35-54-year-olds and and 77% for those 55 and older.

Republicans Are Happier…

As years of data have demonstrated, Republicans tend to say they’re  happier than Democrats. This was true in our poll too with slightly more Republicans (85%) reporting they were happy most times, compared to 79% of Democrats. Republicans were also much more satisfied with marriages.

We also found that a significantly larger proportion of those Republicans who had extramarital affairs derived happiness from their liaisons than their Democratic counterparts: 77% compared to 59%. However, only 4% of all respondents reported engaged in affairs at all.

What makes you happy? Take our poll here. 

The TIME poll, conducted by ABT/SRBI, surveyed 801 adults, June 17-19, 2013.