It was on July 4th, 1776, or thereabouts, that the signers of the Declaration of Independence agreed that we colonials had the unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. So King George, buzz off.
So how are we doing 242 years later?
Not too bad, was the conclusion of the newly released The Life, Liberty, and Happiness Project, headed by Peter Francia, a political science professor at East Carolina University, and director of the school’s Center for Survey Research.
Americans tend to be a relatively contented lot overall, the study found. But there are differences.
Grandpa and grandma are content, but their adult grandkids less so. Your financial situation and whether you like the direction of the country’s politics also play a role in how you feel.
The Happiness Project was a national poll put together by a team of political scientists, psychologists, sociologists and public health experts at ECU. They conducted an in-depth survey of 1,100 adults through the mail, internet and by telephone in May and June.
“In an era that feels increasingly partisan and polarized, this project’s purpose is to highlight shared experiences among Americans as well as identify differences,” the report says.
Despite all our bickering, Americans are actually pretty happy, according to the survey.
Sixty-eight percent of Americans said they agreed with the statement, “Overall, I am satisfied with my life.” The most satisfied were those born in 1945 or earlier (81 percent) and the least satisfied were Generation X, who were born between 1965 and 1980 (66 percent) and the Millenials born between 1981 and 1996 (63 percent).
It should be noted that the older generations worked during a period of rising income, while the younger generations have been caught in a period of stagnant salaries.
Americans who support President Donald Trump’s job performance are more likely to be happy with their lives than those who disapprove (73 percent vs. 64 percent).
Not only does it help if you like the president, but you are also likely to be happier if you have some money in your wallet. People who say they have money at the end of the month to spend or save are far more content than those who are having a difficult time making ends meet (90 percent vs 47 percent).
Among other findings:
▪ Whether an American thinks they will live longer than their parents is dependent on financial status, race and class. The white professional class (52 percent) expect to live longer than their parents, but not so for white working class (45 percent) or people of other races and ethnicities (34 percent).
▪ Drug abuse and access to health care are the top health concerns among Americans. Almost 3 out of 10 Americans say there was a time during the past 12 months where they could not afford to pay for a prescription drug they needed.
▪ Most Americans feel connected to others, 55 percent reporting they “hardly ever” lack companionship, 55 percent hardly ever feel left out and 57 percent hardly ever feel isolated. People who struggle financially, however, are more likely to be lonely.
▪ Taxes were a big issue in the 1776 revolution, and Americans still don’t like taxes. Sixty-percent believe income taxes are too high on the middle class with that opinion shared by majorities who support Trump (64 percent) as well as those who don’t (58 percent). Two out of 5 Americans believe taxes on the wealthy are too low.
▪ Americans remain deeply divided on gun control. But there is a consensus (83 percent) in two areas: denying gun sales to those who fail mental health background checks and those convicted of domestic violence. A majority (61 percent) agree that banning military-style weapons, semi-automatic weapons for civilians would reduce violence. But only 38 percent think arming teachers would reduce school violence.
▪ A majority (56 percent) agree that recreational marijuana should be legalized, with Democrats (64 percent) far more supportive than Republicans (47 percent). There is less support (46 percent) for legalized gambling, with Republicans (50 percent) slightly more in favor it than Democrats (48 percent).
▪ The country has little trust in the news media. Only 23 percent say they have “a lot” of trust in the mass media, with Republicans far more distrustful than Democrats.
▪ There is something to the arguments over political correctness. Democrats are more likely to support government restrictions on offensive and hateful speech than Republicans. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to support government restriction of the expression of views offensive to certain groups by a 36 to 27 percent margin, or hate speech by a 61 percent to 44 percent margin.
Even so, The Life, Liberty and Happiness Project – although underscoring real divisions – paints a portrait of a nation that is far more alike than different.