By Aaron Earls
Did you feel sad and stressed last year? You weren’t alone.
According to Gallup, the World’s Negative Experience Index rose to 32 in 2020, its highest level in 15 years.In 2020, the World's Negative Experience Index rose to its highest level in the 15 years of Gallup tracking the score. Click To Tweet
To determine the global number, Gallup asked adults in 115 countries and areas if they had five specific negative experiences the day prior to participating in the survey. Gallup wrote, “Four in 10 adults said they experienced worry (40%) or stress (40%), and just under 3 in 10 had experienced physical pain (29%) during a lot of the previous day. About 1 in 4 or more experienced sadness (27%) or anger (24%).
Negative experiences and emotions were already elevated in 2019, but they only rose in 2020. Gallup found worry and sadness each rose one percentage point, anger rose two, and stress jumped five points. Meanwhile, the percentage of adults who said they experienced pain actually dropped two points. The five-point jump in stress means nearly 190 million more people globally dealt with stress during a lot of the previous day in 2020 compared to 2019.
Overall, adults in Iraq had the highest Negative Experience Index with a score of 53, up from 51 in 2019. Other nations with high scores include Lebanon (51), Peru (51), Egypt (50), Tunisia (47), Congo (46), Iran (46), Uganda (45), Ecuador (45), and Mali (43).
Areas with the lowest Negative Experience Index were Taiwan (13), Kazakhstan (15), Mauritius (17), Estonia (19), Russia (20), Latvia (21), Kyrgyzstan (22), Israel (22), Lithuania (22), and Japan.
For individual negative experiences, adults in Iraq were the most likely to report anger (51%), while those in Finland (4%) were least likely. Iraqi adults (50%) were also the most likely to say they felt sad during the previous day, and those in Taiwan (6%) were the least likely. Two in 3 adults in Peru (66%) reported feelings of stress, compared to 13% of adults in Kyrgyzstan. Peru (68%) also topped the list of countries experiencing worry, while Taiwan (11%) was the lowest. Iraq (56%) was the country most likely to report physical pain, and Hong Kong (14%) was the least likely.
United States reporting
The United States was not in the top five of any negative experience, but half of U.S. adults (49%) did say they felt a lot of stress during the day prior to taking the survey. Around 4 in 10 (41%) reported worry. Fewer say they felt sadness (27%), pain (27%), or anger (18%).In 2020, half of U.S. adults (49%) say they felt a lot of stress during the day prior to taking the Gallup survey. Around 4 in 10 (41%) reported worry. Click To Tweet
On a more regular tracking of worry and stress in the U.S., Gallup found in April of 2020, 60% of American adults reported feeling a lot of stress on the previous day and 59% report a lot of worry.
By June of 2021, Americans did seem more optimistic as more than 59% of U.S. adults evaluated their life well enough to be considered “thriving” on Gallup’s Life Evaluation Index. That marks the highest level in the 13 years of tracking those levels. The index reached lows near 46% during the 2008 financial crisis and the height of the pandemic in April 2020.
The worry and stress levels also decreased across the country with 44% reporting a lot of stress the previous day in June 2021 and 38% saying they had a lot of worry.
Still, people were and are looking for happiness and ways to properly deal with the negative emotions they are experiencing. In 2020, more people searched for “happiness” on Google than ever before.
Derwin Gray, pastor and author of The Good Life: What Jesus Teaches Us About Finding True Happiness, says that people become dependent on external circumstances to bring them internal happiness and that leads to inevitable crashes of our sense of wellbeing.When people are searching Google for happiness, what they’re actually searching for is a connection with God. — @DerwinLGray Click To Tweet
“Perpetually feeling good or having good things consistently happening to us isn’t the mark of biblical happiness. True happiness, as expressed in the Beatitudes, is about Jesus making us good,” he says.
“So when people are searching Google for happiness, what they’re actually searching for is a connection with God — a transformation that unites us to our heavenly Father and is available to us through Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.”
No matter if the people in our communities are feeling better in 2021 than 2020, they still remember what it was like to worry and be stressed. Some may still be in those times. As churches plan events in the coming year, look for ways to help people enjoy life and provide opportunities to relieve stress and worry. Those temporal moments of earthly care can open the door for conversations about true happiness and joy found in Christ.Talk to people in your community. Find the pressure points of their lives. Bring those to your church and pray about ways to meet those needs in Jesus’s name. — @WardrobeDoor Click To Tweet
Maybe your church can provide free counseling to neighbors working through difficult times. Your church may be able to offer childcare to parents who haven’t had a break in months due to at-home schooling and the cancelation of activities. Talk to people in your community. Find the pressure points of their lives. Bring those to your church and pray about ways to meet those needs in Jesus’s name.
Aaron is the senior writer at Lifeway Research.