Vaxxed, vibing, and totally thriving

American well-being is... higher than it's ever been?

It’s a challenge to look at the state of the world and not conclude that things are going to heck in a handbasket. Partisanship is rotting brains, authoritarians are trying to take over the country, new Covid variants are on the rise, inequality is getting worse, the ocean is burning, the planet is burning, and the rich assholes in charge of it all are too busy enriching themselves to do anything about any of it.

It all seems bad, honestly! But wait, this just in from Gallup: “The percentage of Americans who evaluate their lives well enough to be considered ‘thriving’ on Gallup's Live Evaluation Index reached 59.2% in June, the highest in over 13 years of ongoing measurement.”

Thriving, in Gallup-speak, is a comprehensive measure of well-being that incorporates both how people’s lives are currently going, and how well they expect to be doing in the future. To be considered thriving, you have to rate your current life at at least a 7 out of 10, and you have to rate your future prospects at least 8 out of 10. Nearly 60 percent of Americans currently do so!

The chart above underscores what a wild ride we’ve all been on in the past year. In the spring of 2020 at the dawn of the pandemic fewer than half of Americans were thriving, tied with the aftermath of the 2008 recession for the lowest reading ever. In just a little over a year well-being ascended to its highest level ever recorded. We’ve been through a lot, and we’re still processing all of it.

Gallup reports that day-to-day stress and worry are back down to their pre-pandemic levels. Boredom is down too, from 47% of adults reporting the emotion in March 2020 to 26% today.

Not all is sunshine and daisies, however. The share of people who report experiencing “joy” on a typical day (73%) is still slightly below the level it was at before Covid (81%).

On the whole it looks like the combination of widespread vaccines for anyone who wants them, plus fatter pocketbooks from generous Covid stimulus packages, have truly lifted American spirits. How any of this shakes out in the long run is still an open question. What happens when the stimulus and unemployment benefits run out? What’s the Delta variant going to do in the fall? Will any of this matter if the United States slides further into authoritarian minority rule?

We’ll find out soon enough.


The chart in yesterday’s paid subscriber-only newsletter had an error: the y-axis was labeled “share of adults fully vaccinated” when it should have said “share of population fully vaccinated.” Please consider subscribing to The Why Axis, the pathbreaking publication that puts its mistakes behind the paywall.