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Personal Satisfaction Drops From 2020 Record U.S. High

Personal Satisfaction Drops From 2020 Record U.S. High

Story Highlights

  • 82% satisfied, down from 90% in 2020
  • Decline in employment a key factor in the decline
  • Slim majority of Americans are very satisfied; 65% were in 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Eighty-two percent of Americans are satisfied with the way things are going in their personal life, down sharply from last year's record high and the lowest since 2013. Gallup has tracked this measure since 1979, when the record low 73% were satisfied with their personal life. Most often, satisfaction has been in the 80% range, with the sub-80% measures tending to come during prolonged, challenging economic times, including in the late 1970s and early 1980s and the Great Recession era.


Line graph. Eighty-two percent of Americans are satisfied with the way things are going in their personal life, down from last year's record-high 90%.

The data come from Gallup's annual Mood of the Nation survey, conducted January 4-15.

As the trend suggests, regardless of national circumstances, the vast majority of Americans tend to be satisfied with how things are going in their personal life, with only modest variation occurring in the past four decades. The 82% satisfied with their personal life contrasts with the 11% satisfied with the way things are going in the United States.

Personal satisfaction tends to have a strong economic component to it. Americans who live in upper-income households, who are working, who view the nation's economy well, and who say they are doing better financially than they were last year are significantly more likely to be satisfied than their counterparts. Americans are less likely this year than last year to rate the U.S. economy positively and to say they are doing better financially.

Employment seems to be an especially important factor in explaining the downturn in personal satisfaction this year. Among those who are working, satisfaction levels in 2021 are high and essentially unchanged from a year ago. By contrast, those who are not working -- including unemployed individuals and those who are retired, disabled, homemakers or students -- are significantly less satisfied with their personal life now than last year. The nation's unemployment rate was 6.7% in December, compared with 3.6% one year prior.

Changes in Personal Satisfaction by Employment Status, 2020-2021
2020 2021 Change
% % Pct. Pts.
U.S. adults 90 82 -8
Employed 92 90 -2
Not employed 86 72 -14

Moreover, as might be expected given the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on the economy, significantly fewer Americans are working today than were a year ago -- 52% of those interviewed in the survey say they are working full or part time, down from 59% in last year's poll. Thus, the combination of more Americans not working this year, and greatly reduced personal satisfaction among this group, appears to be a major reason for the decline in the percentage of all Americans who are satisfied with the way things are going in their personal life.

Percentage Very Satisfied Near Low Point

A follow-up question, asked periodically since 2001, measures how strongly satisfied or dissatisfied Americans are with their lives. Currently, 51% are very satisfied, 31% somewhat satisfied, 11% somewhat dissatisfied and 7% very dissatisfied.

Last year, a record high 65% were very satisfied. There have been a few instances when the percentage very satisfied was lower than it is now, including a low of 46% in 2011.


Line graph. The 51% of Americans who are very satisfied with the way things are going in their personal life is down from 65% a year ago, the high point in the trend. There have been readings lower than the current 51%, including in 2002, 2008, 2001 and 2013.

Personal life satisfaction has fallen since last year among employed and non-employed Americans, but the decline has been twice as large among the latter. Fifty-nine percent of working Americans are very satisfied today, down nine percentage points from 68% a year ago. Today 42% of non-working Americans are satisfied, down 18 points from 60%.

Bottom Line

Americans are generally resilient, as no fewer than 73% have been satisfied with their personal life at any point in Gallup polling over the past four decades. Even amid a pandemic that has upended normalcy, more than eight in 10 are satisfied with how things are going for them, personally, though that is down from a record 90% satisfied last year. Personal satisfaction might continue to erode if the economic problem associated with the pandemic persists.

Those in precarious economic situations tend to be less satisfied with their personal life, and the pandemic has put more Americans in peril. The Biden administration has made a coronavirus relief package a priority, trying to build on the aid passed by the Congress during the Trump administration last year. And while President Joe Biden hopes to pass that legislation with a bipartisan majority, his party would be able to do so without Republican help if the two parties cannot agree on a package.

View complete question responses and trends (PDF download).

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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