DOUG HENSLEY | Lubbock Avalanche-Journal
“But love and happiness have forgotten our names…” — John Mellencamp
By and large, it seems people are unhappier than they’ve been in a long time.
This should come as no surprise as we approach the two-year mark of a global pandemic that has spread misery, desolation and persistent pessimism across the land. And we were kind of having a hard time even before COVID-19 became the guest that wouldn’t leave.
There are those who suggest a general fraying of society is taking place with one result being people are less connected to each other and less interested in each other. There must be some truth to that, although it is to be expected following all the time spent in various stages of lockdown, quarantine and isolation.
Let’s be honest. We’ve grown weary of the pandemic. For the most part, most people have gone along to get along. They’ve made sacrifices. The feeling now, though, is it’s time to move on, pandemic be damned. You may have noticed the rhetoric has steadily changed from talking about herd immunity to talking about the virus becoming endemic – that is, it’s here to stay. Which was basically true two years ago, but that’s another column.
Over the past couple of years, this space has regularly discussed some of the uncomfortable truths to emerge from the pandemic. One has been the increasing suicide rate across virtually all demographic lines. Let me be transparent here: I feel a particular sense of calling in this ministry area, although I’m not exactly sure what that means or where it will lead.
That said, we can all agree suicide is a tragedy on every level – the person who takes his or her life and those left behind as a result of the loss. For far too long, it has been something of a taboo to talk about, and for people who hold faith dearly in their lives, the church has a history of doing more harm than good in far too many cases. That also is a column for another day.
No matter what, the bottom line is we are losing too many people to suicide.
Along those lines, you might have seen the news last week regarding 30-year-old Cheslie Kryst, whose remarkable life story includes the earning of a law degree and being crowned Miss USA in 2019. A week ago today, according to published reports, she jumped from a Manhattan building and was pronounced dead. Subsequently, her death was ruled a suicide. In the days since, a number of published reports have quoted her mother saying her daughter battled depression.
It’s a heartbreaking story, and I hasten to point out we don’t have to look to New York for such sadness. Unfortunately, we can find it here in Lubbock, in Amarillo and too many other communities across West Texas. Sometimes it’s depression. Sometimes it’s something else. We hear about someone’s suicide, we shake our collective head, offer our collective thoughts and prayers and, maybe, pause long enough to ask why.
And then most of us return to our routines – until the next heartbreaking interruption. That is not to make any of us feel guilty, only to draw us back to this undercurrent of unhappiness pulsing through the land.
According to the latest figures from the recently released General Social Survey, Americans are unhappier than at any point since the survey’s inception in 1972. Since then, people have been asked the following question: “Taken all together, how would you say things are these days – would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?”
As you think about how you might answer that one, here is some historical context: The very-happy folks have regularly outnumbered the not-too-happy crowd by a margin of roughly three to one for the past five decades.
Until last year came along. Very happy folks went from 31% just four years ago to 19% this time. Meanwhile, the not-too-happy people went from 13% to 24% during the same span. By the way, the pretty-happy group (where I tend to reside) has historically hovered around 57%.
For the first time in the survey’s history, people were more likely to say they’re not happy than to say they are very happy. I imagine many of us can relate to this. The pandemic has changed almost everything. The loss has been unimaginable. Practically everybody knows somebody who died as a result of COVID-19. The virus divided a deeply divided nation even further. Essential and non-essential businesses. Access to health care. Access to remote educational instruction. The list goes on and on.
Vaccines and face coverings did the same thing. There seems to be a sense of foreboding as people wait to see if a new variant will emerge and get breathless, endless treatment in the media. As a result, our optimism has been punched in the gut and our ability to adapt, overcome and ultimately thrive has in some ways been challenged.
The worst thing is no one seems to know what to expect. Before the pandemic, we had routines and went about our business day to day. If you’re like me, you probably took a lot of things for granted – like meeting with friends, going on a weekend getaway and enjoying life’s little pleasures.
Those things haven’t necessarily vanished, but it’s a different world these days. A lot of people don’t like surprises, and the past two years have had more than their share for all of us. They don’t like sudden and unexpected disruptions. They don’t like unanticipated consequences.
All of that can lead to unhappiness. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’ve had my share of unhappy days since March 2020. Just about everyone has.
That doesn’t mean what has been will always be. There are a lot of reasons to be encouraged right now. There are reasons to be optimistic and reasons to help others see the bright side of things.
Truth be told, happiness is fleeting, while the decision to be happy, regardless of present circumstances, always rests within us.
Doug Hensley is associate regional editor and director of commentary for the Avalanche-Journal.