Insights: US & the Roots of Declining Mental Health & Happiness

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Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 3.01.18 PMMental health is a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” 1) It is estimated that only about 17% of U.S adults are considered to be in a state of optimal mental health. 2) There is emerging evidence that positive mental health is associated with improved health outcomes.” – Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Having the opportunity to live abroad but growing up in the Tristate area has given me a new perspective on happiness & depression. I am also lucky that I work in a field that allows me to do research into human insights.  With the recent death of the comedic genius Robin Williams and seeing lots of people around me suffering from depression, I wonder if we have driven ourselves too far in the United States.

The pressure of keeping up with the Joneses has never been a good model to cultivate happiness, instead it’s a formula for depression. What makes most people happy is relatively simple – a job that they are passionate about and is helping them grow as an individual, a partner and family that supports and provides stability, good health and a social system and community that looks out for their interests in case things go wrong. That’s it. Of course, depression has many factors besides this but as a basic benchmark, these are crucial. Unfortunately, all those things are tough to find, especially in urban areas around the US.

Having surveyed a diverse group of 200 people, only 3% of those interviewed were happy with what they do for a living. Mostly they felt locked into a dead end job (and this is white & blue collar professionals). The few people who were happy were business owners or freelancers. Most were in the position because of health insurance and a need of a steady paycheck for their family. What I noticed is that people are most happy when they create/improve or build something with their own hands.

Finding a good partner has also become harder then ever. Young people are simply working too hard to find the right person. Forty four percent of all Americans over the age of 18 are single.

When you work crazy hours because you are afraid to loose your job and take limited vacation (“CEPR reports that the United States is the only nation among advanced economies that does not provide a legal guarantee of paid leave.”) that results in being burned out, deprived of family time and  … DEPRESSED. “A key issue is that we’re a more unequal society than all of the countries we looked at, and that creates a different work environment where people feel they may be penalized for taking time off.”

Finally, a social system that looks out for our best needs. An example of this is Obama Care – an enormous step in the right direction. If you loose your job you will not be indebted in the thousands or even millions sometimes for having a health crisis in the family. When things go wrong – our health, job loss, wanting to have a longer maternity leave – we need to have a government that looks out for our best interests. That provides a sense of stability, takes away fear and anxiety and creates a more equal system for everyone.

Some Initial Takeaways:
1. Flexible jobs that allow people to create, build, develop, cultivate and not just paper or button push. – whether it’s bringing back the manufacturing boom to the US or giving people an opportunity to break out of the daily pigeonhole in their existing corporations and helping them feel fulfilled.

2. Providing and encouraging normal working hours and paid vacation. This  can only enhance productivity. This is why Ford created the 8 hour work day.

3.  Efficient use of technology to fuel human connection.

4. Bringing back the community bond even in urban environments. Getting to know your neighbor.

5. Free healthcare a crucial must have for a happy society.

 

 

 

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