10/20/2014 08:48 am ET Updated Oct 20, 2014

Are We Trying Too Hard to Be Happy?

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Are we trying too hard to be happy? Social science has given mixed messages about how happy Americans are today. On the one hand, data from the General Social Survey (GSS) suggest that American happiness has rebounded from a historical low of 28.8% saying they are very happy in 2010, to 32.9% being very happy in 2012. The 2012 level was near the 1972 through 2012 average for overall happiness. It is interesting that the survey data suggest little difference in happiness between men and women, with 34.2% of women and 31.5% of men reporting they were very happy overall.

On the other hand, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), in 2012, an estimated 16 million adults aged 18 or older in the U.S. had at least one episode of major depression in the past year, representing 6.9% of all U. S. adults. Incidence of a major depressive episode was higher for adult women (8.4%) and for adolescents aged 12 to 17 (9.1%), especially female adolescents (13.7%). NIMH estimates that at any given time 6% of children ages 9 to 17 are affected by major depression.

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