Updated: Apr 11
Stress is taking over the United States: One in five Americans will experience a mental health problem every 12 months, with work related stress estimated to cost the country $300 billion per year for health care and missed work days. Millennials and Gen Z’s are more stressed than any other generation with increasing rates of anxiety, stress and suicide. And according to the NIH in 2017, suicide was the second leading cause of death for individuals aged 10-34 years old. Suicide was also ranked the tenth leading cause of death overall in the US, claiming the lives of more than 47,000 people.
Despite America’s overall increase in safety, low levels of unemployment and increasing wealth, American’s are losing the war against stress and perceived happiness. According to the World Happiness Report the United States was ranked 19th in the World’s Happiness Score; Finland, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and the Netherlands took the top 5 happiest spots.
Many people are now asking the question why? Why are American’s (especially the younger generations) more stressed and less happy as our standards of living continue to improve. According to Steven Pinker (author, professor of Psychology at Harvard and experimental Psychologist) this is the best time to be alive!
As I dig deeper into the World Happiness Report, technology may be one of the biggest drivers to our current countries state of stress and unhappiness.
Recent research is helping provide more context around this problem. Sachs, 2017, 2018 found that a decline in happiness among adult Americans include declines in social capital and social support, and increasing rates of obesity and substance abuse. There is also mounting evidence that American’s are less happy because of how they spend their leisure time. Over the last decade, the amount of time individuals spend on a screen have steadily increased. On screen activities include: gaming, social media, texting and time online.
Here is additional data that helps support a shift of time spent. By 2012, the majority of Americans owned smartphones (Twenge et al., 2019b). By 2017, the average 12th grader spent more than 6 hours a day on screen. By 2018, 95% of adolescents had access to a smartphone, and 45% of them said they were online “almost constantly” (Anderson & Jiang, 2018).
During the same time that screen usage increased, adolescents started to spend less time interacting in person, spending less time with friends, playing and going out. In 2016, iGen college-bound high school seniors spent an hour less a day on face to face interaction than GenX adolescents in the late 1980s (Twenge et al., 2019). This may be proof that the younger generations have made a fundamental shift in how they interact and socialize with one another. Also, Twenge et al. (2015) has shown a decline in adolescent activities like less time reading books and magazines, and less sleeping.
In conclusion, it is important to note that all of the above are simply correlations of how technology may have affected the state of American stress and happiness and may be the driver behind our own unhealthy coping stradegies. Right now this moment in American history marks a strange time. As a society we have never seen such a clash between evolutionary biology, rapid innovation and information overload. In future posts I will begin to shuffle through the clutter and try to link how British Anthropologist Robin Dunbar’s magic number, Moore’s Law, persuasive technologies and our inability to cope may be driving us down a road we don’t want to be driving down.