The world's emotional temperature may be starting to boil

The world's emotional temperature may be starting to boil
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Did you learn or do something interesting yesterday? It might seem like a simple question, but if you answer “yes,” you are better off than a majority of people around the world were last year.

Here’s maybe an even easier question. How about physical pain? Did you feel that a lot of the day yesterday? No? Feel good about that. Close to one in three people worldwide couldn’t say the same.

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Every year, Gallup asks people in 140+ countries these and other questions about their lives, their work and how they are feeling. Why? Because at best, classic metrics and logistic models can only serve as proxies for how people are truly living their lives. People are the only experts on themselves.

These “soft metrics” are important because they can tell us things that GDP per capita and other “hard numbers” just can’t. Although much of the world’s economic health has sluggishly recuperated since 2008, Gallup’s 2018 Global Emotions Report shows collectively, the world’s emotional health has actually grown more frail.

The ailing state of the world’s emotions was more evident than ever last year, with our Negative Experience Index, which annually tracks experiences of stress, physical pain, sadness, worry and anger, coming in at record-high mean of 30.

Higher is not better in this case. It means more people than ever are experiencing negative emotions. For context, the current score is far higher than what Gallup measured at the height of the global economic crisis, when the index stood at 24.

The ranks of the stressed, worried, sad and in pain have only swelled in the past few years, and in 2017, their numbers were higher than Gallup has ever seen them in the decade-plus that we’ve been tracking these emotions.

Nearly four in 10 people worldwide experienced stress (38 percent) and worry (37 percent) the day before the survey. More than three in 10 (31 percent) experienced physical pain and nearly one in four (23 percent) felt sadness. The only emotion that wasn’t higher in 2017 was anger — but that still rang in at 20 percent.

As in past years, people in most of the countries with the highest overall negative scores are experiencing some type of political, economic or civil discord, and many at the top of the list last year have been there for several years.

Conflict-ravaged Central African Republic (CAR) — the most negative country in the world in 2017, with an index score of 61 — is one example. The country’s high score is largely attributable to the often record-breaking percentages of people who experienced each of these negative emotions. 

About three in four CAR residents said they experienced physical pain (76 percent) and felt worried (74 percent) during much of the previous day — both record highs for any country in the past decade. A majority (60 percent) also said they felt sadness, which essentially ties with Iraq for the record high. 

CAR was one of 11 countries where the majority of the population was in physical pain for much of the previous day. With the exception of Egypt and Iraq, nearly all of these countries were in sub-Saharan Africa.

Globally, we’re also seeing signs of erosion on the positive side of the emotional side of the ledger, the Positive Experience Index. 

This index, which annually tracks whether people learned or did something interesting, felt well-rested, treated with respect, smiled or laughed a lot or felt a lot of enjoyment on the day prior to the survey, as a whole has been pretty stable over the past decade.

However, the Positive Experience Index edged downward in both of the past two measures, so it’s definitely something our researchers will be watching closely. But for the most part, people are still pretty positive. The global index score in 2017 was 69.

Looking at the individual questions that make up the index, at least 70 percent of people felt enjoyment, smiled or laughed a lot, felt well-rested and felt treated with respect the previous day.

But it's not a perfect picture. Less than half (46 percent) of the world said they learned or did something interesting the previous day. This isn’t the lowest we’ve measured in the past decade, but it’s on the low end.

As they do year after year, Latin American countries dominate the list of countries in 2017, where adults are reporting a lot of positive emotions each day. Paraguay, for the second consecutive year, is the most positive nation in the world with and index score of 85. The only countries outside this region that top this list are Canada, Iceland, Indonesia and Uzbekistan.

Nearly all of the countries with the worst scores on the Positive Experience Index are experiencing some type of ongoing internal or external conflict. In 2017, war-torn Yemen (49) and Afghanistan (48) posted the lowest scores in the world and the lowest scores for those two countries in the past decade.

The trends in the 2018 Global Emotions Report are as important to leaders as they are to researchers because, despite the particular political system of any given country, leaders cannot effectively lead, create better opportunities for their citizens and ensure that future generations will live better lives than previous ones without closely tracking how citizens evaluate their lives and understanding the local realities they face.

Regardless of where a country may fall on the Positive or Negative Experience Index or where it ranks in terms of specific positive or negative experiences, all leaders need to be monitoring the emotional temperature of the people they lead.

With negative experiences on the rise worldwide, one has to wonder, is the world’s emotional temperature coming to a boil?

Mohamed S. Younis is the managing editor at Gallup, an advisory firm that specializes in big data analytics of employees, customers, students and citizens.