"But love and happiness have forgotten our names." --- John Mellencamp
This is the final Sunday of the first half of 2020, a year that, like an unaware guest, has long overstayed its welcome.
I can’t shake the melancholia of John Mellencamp’s 1991 lyrics from my mind. People have grown weary of the angst, the drama, the politics, and most painfully, the loss – whether that is loss of loved ones, loss of freedom, loss of livelihood or just plain old loss of enthusiasm.
A new round of polls unsurprisingly indicates as much. A social survey, as reported on by The Associated Press, indicated that only 14 percent of Americans consider themselves "very happy." I’m guessing this is also the same 14 percent that controls 100 percent of the nation’s toilet paper.
Seriously, the poll, largely conducted prior to the late May death of George Floyd and ensuing national unrest, indicates Americans are their unhappiest since 1972. It’s not difficult to understand. Six or so weeks of staying at home followed by slowly reopening the state throughout May, a move that became immediately politicized and has just this week been paused has taken a toll on people. Now, with virus cases rising statewide and nationally, people fear the worst, and the worst, as far as many of us are concerned, is a future cloaked in uncertainty.
No matter how hard one might try, it’s not easy to put a happy face on this. Trying to do so falls somewhere between tone-deaf and utterly insensitive. Happy? Are you kidding me? A lot of people are just trying to make it from one day to the next.
Of course, I’ve read a number of stories about people who have used the effects of the pandemic to recalibrate their lives. In other words, they didn’t consider themselves really "happy" before COVID-19 took center stage. They were just as stressed about other matters, particularly the demands of a jam-packed schedule that squeezed almost every meaningful thing to the margins of life.
If we’ve not already done this, we should all examine our pre-pandemic schedules with an eye toward reprioritizing where it makes sense. I have to confess that after some early withdrawal symptoms associated with no live sports, I’ve been able to adjust. It made last weekend’s Belmont Stakes even more enjoyable – thanks to the presence of friends and a fine cigar. My tune might change if coronavirus sidelines or otherwise crimps the upcoming football season. (Today, I don’t see how there can’t be some impact. If you think people are unhappy now, just wait.)
Along the same lines, a new report from the American Psychological Association indicated that more than 70 percent of people believe this to be the lowest point in American history that they can remember. Translated, that means during their lifetime. I would concede this is an unprecedented time; I’m not quite ready to call it a low point. I would defer to people who remember the World War II years.
The thing about history, as historians are wont to remind us, is it’s hard to judge in the moment. People may look back in 50 years and see the first half of 2020 as a blip on the radar or they may see it as much more than that. The chapter is still being written, and the virus is not close to being defeated.
We are in the middle of this storm, and we will determine its outcome, one way or another. Along those same lines, the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis crystallized a lot of emotion and sparked protests, but the long-term impact in terms of meaningful reforms is yet to be seen. The hallmark of a movement is its momentum. We’ve been working on this chapter for a long time – and we still have a very long way to go.
Here’s the poll I found most concerning, though. A Gallup survey released just last week indicates Americans who say they are "extremely proud" of their country has fallen to 42 percent, the lowest number since pollsters started measuring this in 2001.
Worth pointing out, though, is another 21 percent were "very proud." So that’s more than 60 percent, although both numbers were down for the sixth consecutive year. Likewise, another 15 percent are "moderately proud," while 12 percent are "only a little proud" and 9 percent "not proud at all." Certainly, the timing of the survey, coming during a period of marked civil unrest, had some influence.
Call me old-fashioned, but I’m extremely proud to be an American and to live in Texas. Besides four trips across the border to Mexico, I’ve never been outside of the country. I’ve never had the desire (or money) to be a world traveler, although I hope one day to travel the Camino de Santiago across France to Spain, but other obligations are at the front of the financial line.
We live in a great country, a country built by great people with great vision and great hope. Like all people, they had their flaws, just as we have ours today. We have work to do, but there is room for everyone and their dreams. This country will always be at its best when people pull together toward a common good.
The good news is that’s what the majority want. They don’t scream about it or call attention to themselves while they’re doing it. They just go out, day after day, and get it done. They don’t care about being noticed. They care about results.
I know a lot of people like this. I bet you do, too. Here’s what they look like: Some are Black. Some are white. Some are Hispanic. Some are people of faith. Some are not. Some are men. Some are women. Some are gay. Some are straight.
They each have a story worth telling, worth hearing and worth sharing. It’s what makes this country great, and it’s just one of the many reasons I’m proud to call America home. There is nowhere else I would rather be.
How about you?
Doug Hensley is associate regional editor and director of commentary for the Globe-News.