Shining a light on nation’s wellbeing during pandemic

New research from the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard provides a snapshot of the COVID-19 pandemic’s toll on wellbeing in the U.S. According to the study, self-reported ratings on all six “flourishing domains”—happiness and life satisfaction, mental and physical health, meaning and purpose, character and virtue, close social relationships, and financial and material stability—went down between January and June 2020, with some going down much more than others.

The study was published October 19, 2020 in the Journal of Internal Medicine.

The largest decline was for financial and material stability (down from 5.7 to 4.8 points out of 10), according to the study. Happiness and life satisfaction had the next largest drop, from 6.9 to 6.2.

The researchers were surprised to find only a modest decline in social relationships (down from 6.9 to 6.7). This may be because declines in self-assessments from people who live alone were offset by gains from others who have found their relationships with loved ones strengthened by the additional time at home, first author and Human Flourishing Program Director Tyler VanderWeele, John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, wrote in an October 20, 2020 Psychology Today blog post.

Noting that the financial domain was the one in which his team saw the greatest individual variability, VanderWeele suggested that those who have been less affected—and indeed may have more savings given reduced opportunities for spending—may want to consider making charitable donations.

“Generous contributions to individuals and institutions in need can help to shore up societal flourishing and promote the common good, even in the present challenging circumstances,” he wrote, adding that evidence suggests that making donations may also benefit the giver’s wellbeing.

Read the Psychology Today post: National Well-Being Before and During the Pandemic