Home mental fitness According to the 2024 World Happiness Report, Young Americans Are Feeling Unhappy: Here’s Why and a Way to Feel More Joy in Life

According to the 2024 World Happiness Report, Young Americans Are Feeling Unhappy: Here’s Why and a Way to Feel More Joy in Life

by Marianne Navada

The 2024 World Happiness Report shows that the United States dropped out of the top 20 happiest countries and is now at #23. Americans under 30 are responsible for the drop. The US ranks #10 in happiness for those 60 and older. But for those under 30, the ranking plummets to #62. Social scientists attempting to explain the difference in ranking point to financial woes as one of the reasons for the decline. Those interviewed show a lack of hope about their financial situation. They can’t see a better future, whether it’s frustration about the housing market, job prospects, or retirement.

Financial Struggles 

Reading about this made me remember my own financial struggles in my 20s and 30s. Living in New York, there was a time when I had 50 cents in my pocket and I had to get back home to the Upper West Side. I was ready to walk about 150 blocks home one night, when I passed by a subway station and decided to give my MetroCard a swipe, just in case. Lucky—I had one ride left. In college, I used to buy day-old pizzas since they were half-off. Budget was tight even with two part-time jobs while going to school full time. Those pizzas still tasted good to me! My husband and I rented an apartment and had housemates until I was in my 30s.

I’m telling you this not to share sob stories. I never considered my financial struggles as such. Moreover, someone hearing my stories might even consider me fortunate for being in college, living in New York City, or having a place to rent. I don’t remember feeling hopeless during my worst financial predicaments. Maybe it was naiveté, but I didn’t think about retirement or buying a house in the future. I just wanted to finish college, get by, and work towards our future. 

As I’m trying to understand the hopelessness and frustration the younger generation feels about their financial situation, I’m reminded of those few times when I did feel lacking. These moments would pop up when I would start comparing. Whether it was seeing other students in their designer bags or hearing about summer travels, I knew I lived differently from my college peers. While friends my age were talking about mortgages in their 30s, we were living paycheck to paycheck with $0 in savings (and remember the roommate). Moments of frustration surfaced when my focus shifted from trying to live and better my life and instead, started comparing. And comparing usually means questioning what I didn’t have. I consider myself fortunate that these reminders were fleeting. I didn’t have to see people’s luxury handbags or homes constantly. But that has changed.

Comparing Kills Dreams

Nowadays, we live in constant comparison. We don’t just compare ourselves to our peers or neighbors, but to accounts we encounter on social media. We hear about success stories and wonder when ours will happen. I understand that shows such as CNBC Make It can be motivational, but too many stories with similar successful endings can have the opposite effect. Have you heard about the woman who works 2 hours a day and makes $10,000 weekly? She’s the unicorn we try to be. And I know that social media doesn’t help—everyone is constantly renovating their dream house and sharing their affordable find, a couch valued at $8,000. If these are our metrics for comparison, we’re doomed to feel poor and hopeless, for sure.

The Reality 

But to put things in perspective, the US has seen an increase in the percentage of households worth $1 million and more from 2.7% In 2000 to 6.7% in 2022. And this trend is not just in the US, but is happening globally. We’re spending more on coffee and buying more clothes than any other time in history. Happiness levels, as reported by the 2024 World Happiness Report, have less to do with actual prosperity and more to do with how we measure up to what we see is the norm.

When we live a life of comparison, we start finding barriers to our future—barriers that we feel helpless against. We no longer believe in the American Dream or that hard work and perseverance matter. Our obsession with nepo babies is an example. Nepo babies, short for nepotism babies, refer to the children of famous Hollywood, stars who end up working in Hollywood or becoming famous as well. It highlights the fact that we start off in an uneven playing field. But who doesn’t use their own network, connection, or advantage to try to accomplish dreams? Imagine going to a job interview and purposefully downplaying yourself, or not asking a friend for a referral, so others can have a chance. It’s healthy to accept that we all start off unequally in life. Others will have more than you. And you will have more than others.

More than ever, the world demands for us to focus on ourselves. I know it’s easier said than done. I constantly have to remind myself to not let my thoughts drift to what others have achieved at my age. It has never been easier to access information, invest, and learn, all from the convenience of our phones. But this wider access also means that more people will have knowledge of the same opportunities. And its’t that what we want? We live in a constantly changing world, and this requires flexibility and openness to the new. It’s easy to give up hope, but you can’t expect to turn on the light, when you no longer believe that it exists. 


When it comes to mental fitness, less comparison and more hope can move us forward. Whenever I lose focus and start comparing, I tell myself a line from Jason Mraz, I won’t give up

I see that you’ve come so far 

To be right where you are 

Or this one from Theodore Roosevelt: 

Comparison is the thief of joy. 

Commit to living.