A new survey of Americans from every state in the union has found that people with the greatest levels of joy are older, and further that as we age, our overall level of joy continues to grow as we believe more than ever that the world needs more joy. That’s good news for a country whose older adult population is expected to reach 20 percent by 2030.
Google says joy is a feeling of great pleasure and happiness. Its synonyms include bliss, delight, exuberance, jubilation and triumph among others. The word “joy” comes from the Old French term “joie,” which was based on the Latin term “gaudium,” from “gaudere” which meant to rejoice.
The word itself might mean something different to its every hearer, though. For some, “Joy to the World! The Lord is come! Let Earth receive her king!” comes to mind. For others, “Singin’ joy to the world. All the boys and girls now. Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea. Joy to you and me!” And still others are brought back to memories of Sunday School as we belted out an enthusiastic “Where?” after proclaiming: “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart!”
Regardless of the song or feeling the term elicits, there’s little doubt we need more of it. And that is precisely the verdict of a new survey that delved into the level of joy of more than 5,300 Americans from all 50 states.
Working with Survey Monkey, Comfort Keepers, a California-based provider of in-home care for seniors and other adults, polled 5,360 respondents across the United States between April 26 and May 1. Here’s what they found:
- People with the greatest levels of joy are older. Those over 60 averaged a rating of 7.2 out of 10, compared to the 6.8 rating for those 18 to 29, and the 6.6 rating for individuals 45-60.
- 87 percent of those surveyed said that the world needs more joy.
- New Mexico, Mississippi and South Dakota averaged joy levels of 7.6 out of 10, the highest among all states.
- The three states with the lowest reported average levels of joy were Alaska (5.9), Wyoming (5.7) and Vermont (4.8).
- Respondents with children but no grandchildren or pets reported the highest levels of joy (7.2), while those with no children, grandchildren or pets had the lowest level of joy (6.5).
“This survey makes clear that at every stage of life the desire for joy and happiness is universal,” said Tony Chung, vice president of Comfort Keepers. Chung said Comfort Keepers operates on the philosophy of “doing things with our senior clients instead of for them” because the company believes it brings them more joy.
When you think of something that brings you joy, what is the first thing that comes to mind? For respondents to the “National State of Joy” survey listed family, love, music, wife, food, friends, kids, dog, children and grandchildren, in that order.
But they had a few more things to say about joy:
- Family is the most important factor when it comes to experiencing joy.
- People of all ages need sunshine in their lives to improve mood and outlook.
- Once grandchildren enter the picture, they are the center of the senior’s focus.
- As we age, our overall level of joy increases while the perception that there is enough joy in the world decreases.
- Reading is a critical component of joy for seniors.
- Seniors also find joy in getting out in the sun and remembering old times, whether that be listening to old records or looking through photo albums.
- Traveling is extremely important to people of all ages including those who live in states with a large number of tourist destinations.
- Of those surveyed, childless/petless people tend to have the lowest overall level of joy
Respondents included a census-based male and female sampling of Americans aged 18 and above with income levels between $0-$200,000+ from every state. Respondents were asked both open-ended and close-ended questions relating to activities and experiences that bring them joy as well as their overall level of joy.
Chung said the survey undoubtedly shows that the need for joy is universal, but what brings us joy is very individual. He said that was evident in some of the company’s favorite answers to “What was your most joyful moment?” Those included:
“The birth of my children”
“Laughing with friends”
“Returning home safely each day”
“My service dog”
“R&R on a warm summer day”
“Smelling the air right after it rains in the spring”
“My grandchildren and flowers”
“The day I married my husband 49 years ago”
So much of our joy seems to revolve around our relationships. And it makes sense. The Harvard Gazette recently reported on a study of 268 of the Harvard University’s sophomores which began in 1938. In “Good Genes Are Nice, But Joy Is Better,” Harvard reported details of its longitudinal study—the “Harvard Study of Adult Development”—one of the world’s longest studies of adult life. Researchers hoped the study would reveal clues to leading healthy and happy lives.
After following the surviving Harvard men (there were no woman in the school in 1938) for nearly 80 years, researchers found:
“Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives…Those ties protect people from life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ or even genes. That finding proved true across the board among both the Harvard men and the inner-city participants…The study showed that the role of genetics and long-lived ancestors proved less important to longevity than the level of satisfaction with relationships in midlife, now recognized as a good predictor of healthy aging. The research also debunked the idea that people’s personalities ‘set like plaster’ by age 30 and cannot be changed.”
Interestingly, when given a choice of 55 activities and asked to select all activities that bring them joy, some 70% of respondents indicated that “Listening to Music” brings them joy. When given a choice of the same 55 activities and asked to select the activity that brings them the most joy, 9.5% of respondents indicated that “Going on Vacation/Traveling” brings them the most joy.
When given a choice of eight experiences and asked to select the experience that brings them the most joy, 22.5% of respondents indicated that “Sunshine on My Face” brings them the most joy. It would appear John Denver had it right about “Sunshine on my shoulders,” but not quite with that thing about West Virginia.
The survey found that the “10 Most Joyful States” include New Mexico, Mississippi, South Dakota, Idaho, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Utah, Texas and Rhode Island; while the “10 Least Joyful States” include Vermont, Wyoming, Alaska, Alabama, Connecticut, New York, Maryland, Iowa, West Virginia and Massachusetts.
Comfort Keepers is so committed to promoting joy and inspiring others to make the world a more joyful place, that the company registered the last Wednesday in June as the National Day of Joy. This year, that’s tomorrow. They recommend participating by doing something that makes you happy, and sharing your activity on social media using #DayofJoy.
“As people focus on their day-to-day responsibilities, too often they forget about the importance of a daily dose of joy,” Chung said. “But experiencing daily positive moments can help improve quality of life. At a time when the daily news is dominated by crisis, division and cynicism, the National Day of Joy is designed to be an antidote to negativity. It’s a day for taking time, whether it’s five minutes, an hour or a whole day, to focus on the things that bring you joy, and help others experience it too.”