What’s the Latest Development?
Sociologists who measure anxiety levels of entire nations have concluded that the US is, by far, the most anxious nation on Earth. About one in three Americans can be expected to suffer anxiety at some point in their lifetime, compared with one in four Colombians, who occupy the second world-anxiety slot. Curiously, nations where people face more basic struggles in life, like securing clean water to drink, are markedly less anxious than Americans. ‘According to the 2002 World Mental Health Survey, people in developing-world countries such as Nigeria are up to five times less likely to show clinically significant anxiety levels than Americans.’
What’s the Big Idea?
There are two main contributing factors to America’s rise in anxiety over the last four decades. One is the increased number of choices we burden ourselves with, both as our identities have become conflated with material goods (so that buying a bad pair of jeans reflects poorly on ourselves) and as we buy new technology that allows us to micromanage our lives. The second contributing factor is the failure of America’s mythical meritocracy. Sociological surveys show that despite the ravenous effort we put into climbing the social ladder, and the stress and anxiety that accompany that pursuit, wealth and power tend to remain concentrated in the hands of those born into wealthy and powerful families.
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