Americans Are More Miserable Than People from Impoverished Countries

By: Sam Watanuki | Published: Mar 12, 2024

In a surprising turn, a global report has found Americans are more miserable than people from countries like Zimbabwe, El Salvador, and Armenia. While the U.S. ranked 29th out of 71 countries in terms of mood and outlook, Canada and the U.K. fared even worse, placing 40th and 70th, respectively.

Contrarily, countries with lower GDPs, like the Dominican Republic and Tanzania, lead the pack in mental well-being. This raises questions about the factors contributing to happiness and contentment across different societies.

The Pandemic's Lasting Impact

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a lasting effect on global mental health, with the most significant declines observed in the Western world.

Three nurses dressed in blue aprons and white masks standing next to boxes of hospital supplies.

Source: IAEA Imagebank/Wikimedia Commons

The nonprofit Sapien Labs highlighted the stark decline, particularly among younger individuals in English-speaking countries. This worrying trend underscores the pandemic’s profound impact on mental health, which appears to persist even as the world attempts to move forward.

Smartphones and Mental Health

One of the factors linked to the lower mental well-being scores, particularly in affluent countries, is smartphone addiction. The report suggests a correlation between mental health and the age at which individuals get their first smartphone.

A smartphone screen with social media apps

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Alarmingly, a high percentage of young adults who received smartphones at an earlier age exhibit signs of distress or struggle, compared to those who received them later in life.

The Junk Food Effect

Another contributing factor to the mental health crisis in wealthier nations is the consumption of ultra-processed foods. The report found a clear link between diet and mental well-being, with frequent consumption of processed food leading to poorer mental health outcomes.

A vibrant concession stand displays an array of treats, with bright signs for 'SLUSHIES' and 'COTTON CANDY' overhead

Source: Wikimedia Commons

This insight is particularly relevant to countries like the U.S. and U.K., where ultra-processed foods make up a significant portion of people’s diet, unlike in countries ranking higher in mental well-being.

Eroding Social Bonds

The decline in mental well-being is also attributed to the decrease in close personal relationships, particularly in more affluent countries. The report highlights a disturbing trend. Younger individuals in wealthier nations report significantly weaker bonds with their family members compared to those in less affluent countries.

Family made up of three generations laughs on the couch

Source: Freepik

This suggests that strong family connections play a crucial role in mental health, a factor that is diminishing in Western societies.

Work-from-Home Woes

The rise in remote work, accelerated by the pandemic, has also been linked to declining mental well-being.

A woman with long brown hair in a black sweater covering her face with her hands next to a silver Macbook

Source: Anna Shvets/Pexels

While working from home has its benefits, it has also led to increased isolation and erasure of work-life boundaries, contributing to the overall decline in mental health, particularly in countries with higher rates of remote work.


Global Perspective on Well-being

Countries like the Dominican Republic, Sri Lanka, and Tanzania have outperformed wealthier nations in mental well-being scores.

An image capturing the cheerful faces of a group of African children. The children are looking directly at the camera with bright smiles, their expressions exuding happiness and playfulness. The focus is on a girl in the foreground with a beaming smile, while the other children in the background also smile

Source: Annie Spratt/Unsplash

This challenges the notion that higher wealth equates to happiness. Instead, factors such as a simpler way of life, strong family values, and lower technology penetration appear to contribute to higher mental well-being.


The Younger Generation's Struggle

The report emphasizes a stark disparity in mental well-being across different age groups, with younger individuals suffering the most significant declines.

Six young adults stand in a line against a white wall, each focused intently on their own smartphone

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This trend is alarming, as it suggests that the factors affecting mental health are particularly impactful on younger populations, leading to a future where a large segment of society could be grappling with mental health issues.


Shifting Generational Well-being

Before 2010, younger individuals were generally happier and more optimistic than their older counterparts.

An elderly woman sitting down by a wall and smiling.

Source: Tatiana Zanon/Unsplash

However, from 2019 to 2021, a dramatic decline in mental health was observed, particularly among those aged 18–24 and 25–34, who saw their mental health scores drop by 14–17%. In stark contrast, those over 65 experienced little to no decline during the same period — a trend that has held through 2023.


Family Ties and Mental Health

The importance of strong family relationships in ensuring mental well-being cannot be overstated.

Family of three generations takes a selfie

Source: Freepik

The reported link between family closeness and mental health outcomes indicates that reinforcing family bonds could be a key strategy in improving mental health, particularly among the younger demographic.


The Tech Double-Edged Sword

Technology, particularly smartphones and social media, has reshaped the landscape and convenience of modern life.

2 Boy Sitting on Brown Floor While Using Their Smartphone Near Woman Siiting on Bench Using Smartphone during Daytime

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However, this comes with mental health costs, particularly for the younger generation. The findings suggest a need to reassess our relationship with technology and its impact on our daily lives and overall mental well-being.


Challenges and Solutions

The findings of the report present a complex picture of global mental health, with significant challenges ahead, especially for affluent countries.

Family tires to pick out the freshest produce at the supermarket

Source: Freepik

Addressing the mental health crisis will require a multifaceted approach, including reevaluating our relationship with technology, improving diet, reinforcing family and community bonds, and adapting to the changes and pressures brought about by work.