Between political revolutions, devastating tsunamis and the ending of a costly war, 2011 has been quite an eventful year for the world. But for Americans, 2011 was little different from 2010 in terms of the levels of stress and happiness they experienced, according to the Gallup polling agency.
Gallup averaged the results from its Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, a day-by-day measurement of America's mental state that includes some 350,000 surveys conducted throughout the year. The yearly average showed that 49.1 percent of respondents experienced a lot of happiness and enjoyment without a lot of stress and worry in 2011, compared with 48.4 percent of Americans who said the same in 2010. In both years, about 11 percent of Americans experienced a lot of stress and worry without a lot of happiness and enjoyment.
While the yearly stress averages between the two years was essentially the same, 2011 only had one day where more than 15 percent of people felt a lot of stress, whereas 2010 had six days. Gallup previously determined that high stress/low happiness days tend to occur on or close to widely reported negative news events — 2011 was no different.
The most stressful day in 2011 was April 27, around the time when an outbreak of tornadoes killed some 300 people and caused nearly $11 billion worth of damages. Tied for second place was tax day (April 18) and days near several international crises, including the anti-government protests in Egypt and the leaking of radioactive materials into the ocean from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan.
(For comparison, the most stressful days in 2010 were Sept. 27, when flooding damaged property across the Midwest, and Dec. 1, the day after Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve Chairman, publicly expressed concern about the fate of the U.S. economy.)
On the flip side, the happiest day in 2011 was Christmas, followed closely by Thanksgiving, Easter Sunday and Independence Day. Another recent study, this one relying on the happiness level tied to words used in messages posted on Twitter, had similar findings: Happiness was highest on Christmas Day, followed by Christmas Eve, with people seeming to become, in general, much happier on the holidays.