According to Gallup’s latest annual global update on negative and positive experiences, the second year of the pandemic was even tougher than the first.
2021’s uncertainty made the world sadder, more worried, and more stressed than the year before, pushing Gallup’s Negative Experience Index to a new high of 33.
Gallup asked adults in 122 countries and areas if they had five negative experiences the day before the survey and compiled the results into an index. Higher Negative Experience Index scores indicate more people are unhappy.
In 2021, 42% of adults worldwide reported high levels of worry or stress, and 31% reported high levels of physical pain (31 percent ). More than a quarter felt sadness, and fewer felt anger (23 percent ).
Already high in 2020, stress, worry, and sadness set new records in 2021. Worry, stress, and sadness each rose two points. The percentage of adults who reported pain rose two percentage points, matching previous estimates.
One bright spot: anger reports dropped 1% from 2020 to 2021.
First drop in years in positive experience index
Along with more negative experiences, fewer people reported positive ones. 2021’s Positive Experience Index score of 69 was the first drop since 2017.
The Positive Experience Index measures people’s positive experiences from the day before the survey. Higher scores mean more people reported these emotions.
Seven in 10 people worldwide felt well-rested (69%), experienced a lot of enjoyment (70%), or smiled or laughed a lot last year (72 percent ). Nine people in ten felt treated with respect (86 percent ). In 2021, half the world (50%) reported being less likely to have learned or done something interesting the day before an interview.
With more coronavirus deaths in 2021 despite the rollout of vaccines, people felt less well-rested and enjoyed the previous day less. The percentage of people who felt well-rested and happy dropped three and two points, respectively.
The situation wasn’t hopeless. People started smiling and laughing again, and the percentage who learned something new rose by one point.
Afghanistan has the world’s worst experiences
Before the Taliban returned in 2021, Afghans’ lives were in a tailspin already. Most Afghans couldn’t afford food and shelter, few felt safe, and their lives got worse every year.
Gallup surveys conducted in August and September, as the U.S. withdrew and the Taliban took control, show Afghans lost any remaining joy.
Afghanistan has been the world’s least positive country since 2017, except in 2020 due to the pandemic. Afghanistan’s Positive Experience Index score of 32 in 2021 is a new low for Afghanistan and any country Gallup has surveyed in the past 16 years.
Positive daily experiences were scarce before the Taliban took power, but they vanished in 2021. Afghans who felt enjoyment, smiled or laughed, learned something interesting, or felt well-rested dropped to record lows.
Afghanistan replaced Iraq as the top Negative Experience Index country in 2021
Afghanistan’s 59 on the index was the country’s highest ever and the world’s highest in 2021. Afghanistan’s score isn’t the highest ever; the Central African Republic scored 61 in 2017.
80% of Afghans were worried, 74% were stressed, and 61% were sad in 2021. Gallup’s 16-year trend shows that no other population has felt this worried.
In the second year of the pandemic, more people died from COVID-19 despite vaccines. The pandemic isn’t entirely to blame for negative emotions. Gallup data show a decade of global decline.
The continued rise in negative experiences in 2021, along with the decline in positive experiences, suggests policymakers must understand why the world is on this course and find ways to change it.