People Across the Globe Feeling More Sad, Stressed and in Pain Than Ever

Young business man sitting in depression with hand on head /
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The world isn't feeling so hot — emotionally, that is.

A new survey of people's daily emotions found that, worldwide, reports of negative emotions — including sadness, worry and stress — have increased over the last decade, reaching a record high in 2017.

What's more, reports of positive emotions dipped slightly in 2017 compared with the previous year, according to the survey, from Gallup, the analytics and advice company.

The survey also revealed that, based on reports of positive emotions, the "happiest" country in 2017 was Paraguay, marking the third year in a row that the South American country has claimed the top spot. The least happy country was Afghanistan. [11 Tips to Lower Stress]

Feeling worried and stressed

For the survey, researchers interviewed more than 154,000 people in 147 countries throughout 2017.

Participants were asked whether they had certain positive or negative emotions or experiences the day before. For example, for positive experiences, they were asked whether they felt well rested, were treated with respect, smiled or laughed a lot or enjoyed themselves the day before. For negative experiences, they were asked whether they felt worry, sadness, stress, anger or physical pain on the previous day.

Gallup then used these responses to create an "index score" of positive and negative experiences for each country and for the world overall. The score has a cap of 100.

The 2017 survey found that, overall, people all over the world had a negative-experience score of 30, which is the highest negative-experience score measured by Gallup since the company began conducting the survey in 2006. (For comparison, in 2016, the global negative-experience score was 28; and in 2006, it was 24.)

"Collectively, the world is more stressed, worried, sad and in pain today than we've ever seen it," Mohamed Younis, Gallup's managing editor, said in the report.

The increase was driven by an uptick in reports of worry, stress, sadness and physical pain.

At a country level, most countries with high negative-experience scores were grappling with war or other turmoil in 2017.

The country with the highest negative-experience score, the Central African Republic (CAR), experienced renewed fighting between armed groups that forced thousands of people from their homes in 2017, Gallup said. CAR's score of 61 is the highest such score Gallup has recorded in the last decade. Other countries with high negative-experience scores include Iraq, with a score of 59; South Sudan, with a score of 55; and Chad, with a score of 54.

The United States had a negative-experience score of 32, which is slightly higher than the global average. Among high-income countries that are members of the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), the U.S. had the fourth-highest negative-experience score, tied with two other countries (Chile and Turkey). About 49 percent of Americans said they had been feeling "stressed a lot" the previous day, which is higher than the global average of 37 percent.

Positive emotions

The global score for positive experiences in 2017 was 69 out of 100, which is down slightly from a score of 70 in 2016 and 71 in 2015. However, 2017's positive-experience score "is not out of line for scores in the past decade," Gallup said.

At a country level, Paraguay ranked first with a score 85, followed by Colombia, El Salvador and Guatemala, which all tied with a score of 82. Gallup noted that Latin American countries tend to dominate the list of "happiest" countries, which may partly be due to "the cultural tendency in the region to focus on life's positives," Gallup said.

The U.S. had a positive-experience score of 78, which is above the global average. That score places the United States fourth among OECD members, tied with Finland.

About 82 percent of Americans said they had "smiled or laughed a lot" the day before and 92 percent said they were treated with respect.

"Regardless of where a country may fall on the Positive or Negative Experience Indexes … all leaders need to be monitoring the emotional temperature of the people they lead," Younis said. "Leaders cannot effectively lead their societies, seek better opportunities for their citizens and ensure that future generations will live better lives than previous ones without closely tracking how citizens evaluate their lives and understanding the local realities they face."

Original article on Live Science.

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.