Don't worry, be happy: Americans want happiness more than achievement

September 01, 2016, 2:25 PM UTC

Americans are inclined towards a low-stress, happy life over achieving great things

Compared to other wealthy countries the United States has a reputation as a high stress, high income country. Reputation largely matches reality, as Americans do have less free time than workers in most countries, with nearly two fewer leisure hours each day than their French counterparts. Despite the long hours at work, however, money continues to be the leading cause of stress for Americans.

YouGov's research shows that few Americans actually want to live a high stress, high achievement life. Overall, only 28% of Americans want to live a high stress, high achivement life, while 43% want to live a low stress, low achievement life. There is a notable gap between men and women on the issue, however, as men are only slightly more likely to want a low stress life (+7%) while women are almost twice as likely to want a low stress life (+21%). 

Asked to describe their current life, only 13% of Americans say that their life is 'very stressful'. 46% say that it is 'somewhat stressful', and 38% say that it is either 'not very' or 'not at all' stressful. People aged 30 to 44 (22%) are the most likely to say their life is 'very stressful'.

Removing stress from the equation shows Americans' preference for happiness over achievement even more clearly. Only 13% of Americans would rather achieve great things than be happy, while 81% want to be happy. Even among under-30s, 64% prioritize happiness over achievement, though 28% of this age group would rather achieve great things than simply be happy. 

Looking back over their lives so far 60% of Americans are happy with how much they have worked, while 26% wish that they had worked harder. The latter sentiment is more common among under-30s (37%) than it is over-65s (15%). 

Full survey results available here.