Gallup Research Reveals Peak Stress and Sadness Worldwide 

By Thierry Malleret, economist

If the world broke many records in 2021–including record corporate profits and CO2 emissions–Gallup’s 2022 Global Emotions Report also reveals a historic high for negative emotions. The survey of people in 121 nations found that in 2021 levels of stress, sadness, and loneliness reached record levels (the highest since Gallup started tracking emotional health in 2006). A few findings:  

  • A record 41% of people experience high levels of daily stress; 
  • 330 million adults go at least two weeks without talking to a single family member or friend;  
  • Positive feelings, such as laughing or being well-rested, also hit new lows;  
  • Countries where social connections are strongest–such as nations in Central America–have the highest positive emotions scores globally.  


POLYCRISIS – Decision-makers face a disorienting mix of multiple crises. From an economic standpoint, the unprecedented combination of inflationary and recessionary forces at a time of high global indebtedness creates a major source of uncertainty. This is exacerbated by the large number of environmental, geopolitical and societal crises unfolding around the world. In so many dispiriting ways, the Great Reset is turning into a Great Regression.

Considering this, we should not be surprised by the global rise of unhappiness and unwellness which, in certain countries and quarters, is reaching epidemic proportions.

As the Gallup Global Emotions 2022 Report shows, negative emotions (defined as “the aggregate of the stress, sadness, anger, worry and physical pain that people feel every day”) reached a new record in the history of Gallup’s tracking. Since 2006, Gallup asks each year about 150,000 people in 120 countries about the emotions they experience.

Unhappiness (the antonym of “subjective wellbeing” in the academic jargon, so a good proxy for unwellness) is therefore getting worse. However, the report explains how the global rise of unhappiness started long before the current issues (such as pandemic, inflation and recession risks, geopolitical turmoil, worsening of climate crises, etc.) made the big headlines. In fact, unhappiness has been rising for a decade.

Many things contribute to make people unhappy, but five stand out: (1) poverty, (2) weak social connections and communities, (3) hunger, (4) loneliness and (5) lack of good work. All of these are on the rise and can perpetuate unhappiness and unwellness because our emotions guide our decisions at the ballot box.

This is an argument made by George Ward, behavioral scientist at MIT, who asserts he can predict the outcome of elections and an increase in populist sentiment by looking at the mood of the populace. As unhappiness and stress rise, so does the appeal of populist policies, whose poor economic and social outcomes lead to even greater unhappiness/unwellness. All over the world, people are bemused by the rise of violence, hatred. and radicalization. We need to pay more attention to how the state of our emotions is a definitive indicator of societal health.

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