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Americans are not happy. What is the cause?

Unsplash/Andre Hunter
Unsplash/Andre Hunter

It’s that time of year again when the World Happiness Report releases its findings on the happiest countries on the planet. From 2023 to 2024, the United States plunged from 15th to 23rd, hitting an all-time low in average happiness ranking. When two time periods are viewed side-by-side — 2006 to 2010 and 2021-2023 — the U.S. has had the 15th-sharpest decline in overall happiness of the 134 countries surveyed. Of Western nations, only Canada fared worse (14th highest decline).

What has led to such a steep reduction in people’s overall happiness in the U.S.?

Gallup, one of the key research firms collaborating on the World Happiness Report, explained the falling happiness rates result from “Americans under 30 feeling worse about their lives.” Specifically, Americans under 30 feel less supported by friends and family, less free to make their own life choices, more stressed about their living conditions, less confident in the government, and more concerned about political corruption. By contrast, the report found that older Americans are happier than their younger counterparts.

Americans under 30 are those within Gen Z. This is the generation that has grown up with smartphones and social media, and that often communicates with friends through digital means — sometimes even within the same physical space.

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Americans between 18-29 years old have the lowest religious involvement of any adult age group in America, with only 27% attending religious services at least once per week (by contrast, 38% of Americans 50-64 years old and 48% of Americans over 65 years old attend religious services at least weekly). Gen Z is unquestionably the least religious generation in American history.

Politically, a plurality of Gen Zers claim they are independents or unaffiliated (38%), while 35% belong to the Democratic Party and 26% belong to the Republican Party. However, party identification is not necessarily a clear indicator of what matters to Gen Z. Surveys show that adults under 30 strongly support abortion, homosexuality, and transgenderism, and policies that enlarge the government.

When the religious and political views of Gen Z are set alongside the findings from the World Happiness Report, are there any reasons for Christians to be encouraged? I believe there are. For example, one of the key reasons why Gen Z feels unhappy is because they do not feel supported by family and friends. Yet it is precisely because of their views on family and friendship that misery has followed. The biblical definition of a family is a father, a mother, and (if the Lord wills) children sharing life together as a unit. Through the media’s relentless quest to cast the family into a more “modern” mold, the family itself has been dismantled and destroyed. Acceptance of sexually deviant practices, such as homosexuality and transgenderism, eliminate the reality of the family.

Certainly, people can — and do — attempt to redefine the family on their own terms. But redefining something God ordained does not make that redefinition correspond with reality. Eventually, the proverbial chickens will come home to roost. Reality wins every time. When you lose the foundation of what family is, you experientially lose family, which leads to loneliness and a feeling of being unsupported by family because there is no family to support you.

The same can be said for those in Gen Z who are such ardent supporters of murdering babies in the womb. Losing connections because the family itself has been lost is only half of the story. What will members of Gen Z do when they are the older generation, but now are forced to grow old alone because so many of their children have been aborted? Present feelings of loneliness and a lack of family support are merely the first clouds on the horizon of a cataclysmic storm.

While Christians are not encouraged by the unbiblical values and morals espoused by Gen Z, we should realize that their values are leading them away from satisfaction and joy. What these unconverted men and women are pursuing is vanity and sin, and they are feeling the effects of this deadly pursuit in their own personal unhappiness. These experiences open opportunities for believers to speak into this unhappiness and point the way to true and lasting joy through salvation from sin by the cross of Christ.

Gen Z also reports feelings of unhappiness because they are less confident in the government. Many times over the past two decades, I have lamented the fact that so many Americans have replaced God with government. Rather than looking to the Lord for help, strength, provision, community, and safety, so many people immediately run to politics, thinking a new law or a new leader in government will bring a positive change in society. This political disease has infected both sides of the political aisle, and the intensity of the scene in the United States is incontrovertible evidence that the government is most people’s greatest hope.

None of this is surprising for Christians who know and believe in the Bible, as the Scriptures present government as something people will turn to and worship during this present age. Those who have power in this world are essentially seen as gods with the ability to save or destroy. We naturally look to these leaders for protection, justice, help, and provision. Since Gen Z is the least religious generation in American history, it should come as no surprise that much of their faith is in the government to be their savior.

Yet the World Happiness Report informs us that Gen Z is becoming disillusioned by their god. The government is not the deliverer those between 18- and 30-years old thought it was. The politicians who wield power and influence, for whom many of this generation zealously voted and elected in 2020, have turned out to be corrupt and unconcerned about their plight. Gen Z is learning the lesson so eloquently captured in John MacArthur’s 2000 book, WhyGovernment Can’t Save You. Most of Gen Z were too young or not yet born when this little book was published, but the title is as relevant today as it was then. We are reminded afresh that if the government is your savior, then you are lost.

With Gen Z becoming disillusioned with government and politicians, we have an immense opportunity to point them to the One who truly can — and does — save sinners from sin and death. These feelings of unhappiness about the state of our government open the door to reminding Gen Z that there is a King who will never disappoint and that those who believe in Him will never be put to shame. His name is Jesus. He died on the cross to save rebels, and He’s coming again to reign over the whole earth in righteousness. Sinners who put their faith in Him receive a kingdom and a joy that cannot be shaken.

The World Happiness Report reveals what many of us probably already know about the condition of our nation: people are unhappy, disillusioned, and disappointed. This report might be the most hopeful news for our nation in recent memory, especially when we think about the prominence of Gen Z in this report. The prodigal son “came to his senses” and returned to his father when he sat alone in his misery. Perhaps the Lord will use our national mood to direct our attention to the truth of His Word and spark revival anew.

May we be ready to point our unhappy and disappointed neighbors to the joy and satisfaction found in Christ alone, especially our Gen Z neighbors who are discovering the vanity of life without Christ.

Dr. Robb Brunansky is the Pastor-Teacher of Desert Hills Bible Church in Glendale, Arizona. Follow him on Twitter at @RobbBrunansky.

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