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As American happiness declines, loneliness plays a role, says Sen. Chris Murphy

A lone man looks at his phone as he walks through a mostly empty park in Kansas City, Mo. Tuesday, April 14, 2020 as stay-at-home orders continue in much of the country in an effort to stem the spread of the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Charlie Riedel
The U.S. dropped to 23rd worldwide in Gallup's 2024 World Happiness Report, a decline driven largely by a dip in happiness among Americans under the age of 30.

A new report measuring global happiness has unhappy news. The United States is no longer one of the world’s top-20 happiest nations.

The report from the Gallup World Poll used responses from people in more than 140 countries to rank the world’s happiest countries.

Finland topped the list for the seventh straight year, followed closely by Denmark and several other Nordic countries. Strong levels of social support and a healthy life expectancy are two key contributors to happiness in those nations, the report found.

The U.S. dropped to 23rd worldwide, a decline largely driven by a dip in happiness among Americans under the age of 30, according to the report.

While young Americans say they’re feeling less happy, older Americans are experiencing higher levels of happiness. Friendship and loneliness are likely contributing factors, according to the report.

Among millennials, loneliness is almost twice as high compared to those born before 1965.

Loneliness can impact rates of violence and health outcomes, said Democratic U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, of Connecticut.

“I just think it’s time for us to view loneliness as a political issue,” Murphy said. “It has political consequences. It has health consequences that have cost consequences for the federal government.”

Murphy spoke Wednesday on the The United Nations’ International Day of Happiness.

The rapid pace of unregulated technological development is also contributing to American unhappiness, Murphy said.

“Social media is the clearest way that technology – unregulated and unchecked – can drive Americans mad,” he said. “And can make people feel super unhappy.”

Lawmakers in The House of Representatives last week voted to ban TikTok, citing its control by a “foreign adversary.” The bill awaits action in the U.S. Senate. Murphy said he’s “open” to the bill, but would rather see social media more broadly regulated.

Social media companies, including TikTok, he said, should require parental consent and include age verification for kids.

“Most importantly, you have to turn off the algorithm – that perfecting algorithm – that captures your data and feeds you stuff, according to what you swipe and like. You have to turn that off for teenagers,” he said.

While teenagers withdraw into screens, Murphy said Americans are seeing an eroding sense of local place, as big box stores and other corporations funnel individuals into much bigger economies.

That, he said, is making Americans feel more isolated and unhappy.

“We all shop from the same national brands. Our culture is flattened. My town is no longer … as unique as it was 30 years ago,” Murphy said. “We now belong to this big thing.”

“It feels lonely,” he said.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.