Happiness Paradox: Why Are Americans So Cheery?

Times are hard — so what are we to make of the sudden outbreak of contentment?

Illustration by Gerard Dubois for TIME

Happiness is a sappy word and a flimsy concept — more fleeting than contentment, several octaves lower than joy. But happiness is what pollsters test and economists track, however clumsily, so we're stuck with it as the medium for measuring our mood. Not surprisingly, that mood has bounced around over the years, with the general sense of well-being hitting its lowest points in 1973, 1982, 1992 and 2001, all recession years. So why is it that at least some aspects of the Great Recession of 2009 appear to have made people feel better?


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