Residents enjoy a stroll along the Robinson Mountain hiking trail in Island Falls Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

The number of Americans saying they are satisfied with their lives has reached a 13-year high, according to a new poll.

The Gallup poll released last week found the percentage of people in the United States who are considered “thriving” and the percentage who reported daily enjoyment have increased since earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic. Levels of stress and worry have also fallen as COVID-19 pandemic restrictions are being lifted across the U.S.

The poll of 4,802 adults was conducted June 14-20, with a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points.

It comes as the availability of COVID-19 vaccines has allowed for more businesses to reopen with fewer restrictions and for more Americans to return to at least some of their normal activities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that, as of Sunday, 67.6 percent of adults in the U.S. have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 58.8 percent are fully vaccinated.

“Beyond the vaccination rollout and improving economic conditions, though, is the critical psychological benefit of renewed social interaction,” Gallup said. “Reuniting in person with family and friends and joining in large gatherings of people such as at sporting events is a crucial part of social wellbeing.”

Life satisfaction

Gallup found that 59.2 percent of Americans surveyed are “thriving” — the highest percentage reported in over 13 years and exceeding the previous high of 57.3 percent reported in September 2017.

It’s up from 46.4 percent in late April 2020, when soaring COVID-19 cases led the U.S. to surpass 30 million unemployment claims, which is tied for an all-time high with November 2008, when the Dow Jones hit its lowest level during the Great Recession, Gallup said.

Gallup’s Life Evaluation Index is based on how Americans “rate their current and future lives on a ladder scale with steps numbered from 0 to 10.” Those who rate their current life at least a 7 and their future life at least an 8 are considered “thriving” in the poll.

While current life satisfaction has rapidly increased, anticipated life satisfaction has remained “elevated compared with pre-COVID levels,” the poll found.

Gallup found 69 percent of respondents rated their current life satisfaction between 7 and 10, up from a low of 56.9 percent in April 2020, while 70.5 percent rated their anticipated life satisfaction between 8 and 10.

“The rapid recovery of current life satisfaction, coupled with the sustained elevated level of anticipated life satisfaction, has fueled the thriving percentage to its current heights,” Gallup said.

Stress and worry versus daily enjoyment

The percentage of Americans who reported “significant stress and worry a lot of the day yesterday” fell, while the percentage who reported “enjoyment a lot of the day yesterday” rose.

Gallup found 44 percent of respondents said they experienced stress “a lot of the day yesterday” while 38 percent said the same of worry — both falling to pre-pandemic levels.

“The percentage of people who reported experiencing significant stress and worry ‘a lot of the day yesterday’ showed unprecedented increases in the first half of March 2020, with stress rising 14 percentage points to 60 percent and worry rising 20 points to 58 percent,” Gallup said. “These spikes were about four times greater than what was measured over the course of 2008 as a result of the Great Recession.”

Daily enjoyment has “markedly improved,” Gallup found, but not to the same degree that stress and worry declined.

Seventy-three percent of respondents said they experienced “enjoyment a lot of the day yesterday,” the poll found. That’s up from 61% at the beginning of the pandemic but still below the 81 percent reported before the pandemic.

Boredom has also declined since the beginning of the pandemic.

“Close to half of adults reported this emotion in late March 2020, peaking at 47 percent in mid-April,” Gallup said. “As the economy started to reopen last spring and social distancing has eased significantly with the uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine in 2021, that figure has declined to 26 percent in June.”

Gallup said it’s unclear whether the “recent positive trends in wellbeing are sustained” as concerns rise about the delta coronavirus variant and the possibility of a fall surge that could mean “partial economic, social and school shutdowns in areas with low vaccination rates.”

“Based on learnings from 2020, such occurrences could lead to another downturn in wellbeing nationally, though likely not at the same level of magnitude suffered by Americans in the spring of 2020 given the sizable extent of the vaccinations in many parts of the country,” Gallup said.

Story by Bailey Aldridge McClatchy, Washington Bureau