Despite the crushing challenges of navigating a worldwide pandemic during the past two years, Americans remain as optimistic as ever, a series of surveys shows.
The surveys were conducted between 2008 and 2020, and included 2.7 million adults who were asked to use a 10-point scale to rank their current life satisfaction, with 10 being the highest level of contentment.
The participants were also asked to rate their anticipated life satisfaction in five years, and the difference between that and their current satisfaction score was used to measure their sense of optimism or pessimism about the future.
Over the 12 years of surveys, current and anticipated scores remained fairly consistent, according to the study published Feb. 23 in the American Journal of Public Health.
For example, during the Great Recession (2008 to 2010), current satisfaction scores ranged between 6.79 and 6.97, while scores of anticipated satisfaction in five years ranged from 7.56 to 7.74. In each of the three years of the recession, the measure of optimism (the difference between current and anticipated scores) was exactly the same (.77).
Scores in the first year of the COVID pandemic showed similar results. Current satisfaction levels in 2020 were slightly lower than in previous years, but the anticipated satisfaction level in five years stayed steady, resulting in a relatively high measure of optimism (.92).
The findings from the long-running survey conducted by the Gallup National Health and the Well-Being Index, an online self-assessment tool created by the Mayo Clinic, have broad implications for Americans' health, said senior study author Dr. Brita Roy, an assistant professor of medicine at Yale University.
"Prior literature shows that declines in hope are associated with worse health outcomes and sense of well-being," Roy said in a Yale news release. "People with a more optimistic orientation generally do better during an illness, adhere to better health behaviors, and exhibit better psychological health."
The surveys also revealed that between 2008 and 2017, optimism declined in 1 of 7 counties nationwide, increased in about 1 in 7, and remained the same in about 5 out of 7.
Understanding the differences in local trends and levels of hope are crucial in developing community-based strategies to improve public health, Roy noted.
For example, in areas where hope is diminishing, public health problems such as opioid addiction might be increasing.
"That is where strategies to improve community engagement and socio-economic conditions might pay big health dividends," Roy said.
There's more on optimism and health at Harvard Medical School.
SOURCE: Yale University, news release, Feb. 23, 2022