Pandemic Surprise: Americans’ Happiness Surges

Call it the silver lining to the second year of the pandemic: the lockdown has led to a deeper sense of fulfillment.

That’s the surprising finding in a SoFi survey of 327 members conducted in March. More than 60% of the 327 people surveyed said they were more satisfied with their lives now than they were a year ago, while 29% said they felt about the same amount of satisfaction, and only 11% said they felt less satisfaction.

“I feel more connected and grounded since the pandemic started,” said Corey G. “The downtime and silence was extremely helpful and allowed me to get centered with what truly mattered and with what I wanted from life.”

“Loving my life,” said Vinecia H. “I get to work at home with my dog and see my kids more. Be more flexible with home duties and work. Comfortable clothing. Better $.”

While lockdown by its definition would seem to close off options, the respondents felt the opposite.

In the survey, 58% said they felt more able to pursue their goals of personal fulfillment than they did a year ago.

These upbeat results come on the heels of a Gallup survey released in January 2022 that said, among other things, that Americans’ satisfaction with their lives has ticked up to 85%, just five points shy of the 2020 record-high point.

We decided to find out if our members felt the same–and why. The answer seems to be a resounding yes…and then some! Here’s what else we uncovered.

Finding the Happiness Source

The respondents came from across America, with the largest age group in the survey being 25-34 and the second largest group being 35-44.

When asked what is their most significant source of personal happiness, 52% said it was “romantic partner and/or family,” with satisfaction sources such as career, friends, money, or spiritual life each garnering less than 20%.

“I’ve gotten married, bought a house that’s more appropriately sized, and I’m pregnant with my first child.” said Marissa S. “I would say that I have a greater sense of connectivity with my growing family, and my personal satisfaction has definitely improved.”

Strengthening what emotional ties already existed seemed to be key for many who took the survey.

When asked how work from home policies, attending college online, and other pandemic-related restrictions changed how they felt about their partner, 33% said they felt the same about their partner as before the pandemic, 28% were happier with their partner than pre-pandemic, and only 5% said they felt less happy. (In the survey, 6% said they broke up with a partner, 9% had someone new in their lives, and 20% said they didn’t have a partner.)

“I’m about the same level of happiness,” said Aman W. “I’ve only realized what the more important things truly are like my family, being true to myself, and being the best version of myself.”

“I’m very satisfied in my personal life due to my partner, recent engagement, and recent home buying,” said John G. “All while still staying close to my friends and being able to walk around town.”

When asked, “How does working from home, attending college online, and other pandemic-related restrictions make you feel about your immediate family?”44% said, “I feel closer to my family than pre-pandemic” and 41% said, “I feel about the same.”

Keeping Everything in Perspective

Members were neither oblivious nor uncaring about what was going on in the world, and the pandemic did take a toll.

“I have felt lost and confused since graduating from college,” said one respondent. “I feel a bit stagnant, longing for this chapter of my life to close,” said another.

But many survey takers seemed able to keep a firm handle on their priorities through the turbulence.

“I guess you could say that I have an overall feeling of dread because of what’s going on in the world but that I also feel content with where I am at in life,” said Lauren K.

Cause for dread seemed evident.

Between March and April 2020, 43 governors issued orders directing residents to stay at home and nonessential businesses to close in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Some news media estimate that three out of four Americans–or some 245 million people–were affected by the lockdown. Covid-19 has killed more than 983,000 Americans.

Compounding this national crisis, early in 2022, inflation showed a 7 percent spike, raising concerns about how easy it would be to find a new home and pay for gas and food. With war in Ukraine breaking out, anyone might expect to hear a dose of pessimism in a poll asking people how they feel about their lives.

One clue to the survey’s responses may be the respondents’ ability to compartmentalize.

When asked “How has your ability to separate events you can’t control from things in your personal life that you can control?” 48% said that they felt better able to compartmentalize than a year ago, while 36% said they felt they possessed the same ability to compartmentalize as pre-pandemic.

One definite finding was that a steady drumbeat of bad news outside the home didn’t seem to correlate to bad feelings inside the home. In the survey, 53% said hearing bad news (“the pandemic, inflation, war overseas, and more”) did not affect their sense of personal satisfaction.

“Very happy with life, family, and work,” said Michael S. “Rest of the world is in a pretty bad place.”

How Did the Pandemic Affect Careers?

Work life revealed some highly interesting perspectives as well.

While the news is filled with headlines about “the great resignation,” 76% of the respondents said they had not quit their job within the last 12 months.

When asked about their career satisfaction, 50% reported feeling more satisfied than pre-pandemic, 25% said their satisfaction level was the same, and 25% said they felt less satisfied.

When those who felt more satisfaction with their work were asked for reasons, the biggest reason was “no more commuting time.” The second biggest reason was “more autonomy,” and the third was “more casual work clothes.”

“I love the WFH trends the pandemic has created and really hope they stick around for the long term,” said William W. “My role is now hybrid, which provides a great blend.”

Interestingly, 77% of the respondents said their savings had grown in the past year.

In the survey comments, stress over how the pandemic affects their job did surface, including supply-chain issues.

“Work has become very stressful because of the increase in exterior costs–gas, packaging, material costs,” said Shannon W. “Happy I made a move during the pandemic, but flustered.”

Benny T. said, “I am happy with work from home but wish there was more focus on stopping at a certain time, feels like people just work longer than they did before because of no commute. Always expected to be connected.”

Home Is Where the Heart Is?

A sense of spiritual life was of value to many of the survey takers. However, 62% said their spiritual life was neither stronger nor weaker than pre-pandemic. They hadn’t necessarily discovered a new path but perhaps doubled down on their existing spiritual practices while focusing on stress reduction.

“Increasing emotional intelligence is a key factor for personal satisfaction,” said Amanda K. “Organizing my life in a way [that] it has the least amount of stress possible. Identifying stress factors and addressing it as much as possible.”

What came through with particular strength in the survey was a deeper appreciation of home and greater interest in the homefront. When asked, “How has the past year made you feel about where you live?” 47% said, “It has made me realize I mostly love my home and neighborhood.” And 28% said being home more made them want to redecorate and renovate.

“I love working from home and not having to commute to an office, and I have been making my home even more wonderful to spend time in,” said Donna I.

The Covid pandemic, compounded by economic stress and conflict around the world, has caused undoubted stress across America. But the results of the SoFi survey suggest that this period has also made people mentally stronger.

When asked, “Has your sense of emotional resilience—ability to stay strong through adversity—changed since before the pandemic?” 60% of the survey respondents said they felt “more resilient” while 31 percent said they felt the same amount of resilience as pre-pandemic.

Many of the respondents echoed the feelings of Kimberly S.

“My current level of personal satisfaction is good at this time,” she said. “I am optimistic and positive, and working towards meeting my goals.”

The Takeaway

It’s good to know that, according to our survey respondents, the pandemic hasn’t dashed all hopes for the future. In fact, it has led to a deeper sense of personal satisfaction and gratitude for the personal relationships that create a halo of positivity.

And, of course, the last couple of years have taught us the value of tending to our financial wellness, too. SoFi can partner with you to enhance that with our one-stop banking. When you open a SoFi Checking and Savings account with direct deposit, you’ll earn a healthy APY, banish fees (overdraft, monthly maintenance, and more), and have access to 55,000 fee-free ATMs within the Allpoint network worldwide.

SoFi Member responses are from the SoFi Ambassador survey conducted in March 2022. All responses are published with the permission of the SoFi Member, and have been edited for grammar and clarity by SoFi editors. SoFi Ambassadors earn rewards for participating in the Ambassador Program.

Better banking is here with SoFi, NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Checking Account Overall. Enjoy up to 4.60% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.

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Nancy Bilyeau ABOUT Nancy Bilyeau Nancy Bilyeau writes about student loans, mortgages, car insurance, medical debt and many other finance topics for SoFi. A veteran of the magazine business, she has edited stories on personal finance for Good Housekeeping and DuJour magazines and has written articles for The Wall Street Journal, Readers' Digest, Parade, Town & Country and Lifetime/A&E, among others. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan.

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