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Tornadoes, Taxes Coincide With Most Stressful Days of 2011

Tornadoes, Taxes Coincide With Most Stressful Days of 2011

by Steve Crabtree

Overall, Americans' stress and happiness levels held steady compared with 2010

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Despite a tumultuous year characterized by global instability, natural disasters, and high-stakes political brinksmanship, Americans' likelihood to report a lot of stress and worry without a lot of happiness and enjoyment remained virtually the same in 2011 as it was in 2010. What's more, the percentage who experienced the reverse -- a lot of happiness and enjoyment without a lot of stress and worry -- has ticked slightly upward over the last two years.

Daily mood averages for 2008-2011

Results for each year come from more than 350,000 surveys conducted daily as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. Interviewers read respondents a series of emotions and asked them to say whether they experienced each one "during a lot of the day yesterday." The daily U.S. Mood Index tracks the percentage who experienced a lot of happiness and enjoyment without a lot of stress and worry, and vice-versa, on the previous day.

Tornadoes, Taxes Coincide With Most Stressful Days

Though the yearly stress average was essentially unchanged in 2011, it is notable that there was only one day over the course of the year when the stress indicator exceeded 15%, as opposed to six days in 2010. Though these data do not determine why Americans are more likely to report stress and worry on some days than others, Gallup has found in recent years that high stress/low happiness days tend to occur on or close to high-profile negative news events.

Last year was no exception. The most stressful day of 2011 was April 27, when one of the largest tornado outbreaks ever recorded tore through the southeastern U.S., killing more than 300 people and decimating entire communities. The next most stressful day was April 18, the income tax deadline. This is likely related to the pressure many are under to file on time, but may also reflect the anxiety brought by the focus on one's personal finances. In recent years, bad economic news has been particularly closely associated with days of low happiness and high stress.

Major international crises -- including the turmoil at the outset of the Egyptian revolution and radiation leakage at Japan's damaged Fukushima nuclear plant -- also coincided with high-stress days in the U.S.

Six most stressful days in 2011

Holidays Boost Happiness

As in previous years, Americans' happiest and least stressful days were on or close to major holidays. The happiest days of the year were Christmas and Thanksgiving, when two-thirds of Americans reported feeling a lot of happiness and enjoyment without a lot of stress and worry, followed closely by Easter Sunday, Independence Day, and New Year's Day.

Six Happiest Days of 2011

Happiness brought about by the year-end holidays may be particularly beneficial because the shorter days and colder weather can lead to mental health problems like seasonal affective disorder for many people. Gallup and Healthways trends demonstrate that increased social time, which usually comes with holidays and time off work, serves as an effective antidote to those effects, helping to boost emotional well-being at a time when some may need it most.

About the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index tracks well-being in the U.S., U.K., and Germany and provides best-in-class solutions for a healthier world. To learn more, please visit

Survey Methods

Results are based on annual sample sizes of more than 350,000 surveys per year and on daily sample sizes of at least 1,000 surveys per day.

For annual results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±0.2 percentage points. For daily results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit


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