A Stressed Out Nation is . . . a Happier Nation?

One of the unexpected upsides of stress is
its surprising link to meaning and life. A few years ago a study was released by the
World Gallup Poll that actually looked at what they called the stress index of 121 countries
where they went around the world and they asked people did you experience a great deal
of stress yesterday? And they had expected, the researchers expected that having a country
of people who were stressed out that that would be related to really terrible things,
you know, less happiness with life, less satisfaction with life. You know, worse health, shorter
life expectancy. What they found instead is that if you have a nation of people who say
yesterday was really stressful, you have a nation of people who also are happier, they’re
more satisfied with their lives. They also tend to live longer. And one of the reasons
seems to be that the things that create stress in our lives are also the things that create
meaning. That same Gallup World Poll found that a high stress index was associated with
a greater chance that you would say you learned something interesting yesterday, a great chance
that you experienced joy, love, laughter yesterday. And a more recent study done here in the United
States found that if you want to know whether or not someone has a meaningful life the best
way to find out is to ask them about the stress in their lives. That people who say their
lives are more meaningful they’ve tended to experience more stress in their past. They
tend to be under more stress currently. They spend more time thinking about the difficulties
they’ve overcome and they also spend more time worrying about the future. And it again
seems to be because the things in our lives, the relationships, the roles, the difficult
goals that we’re pursuing, the things that create meaning also inevitably create stress. And a simple example of a mindset reset that’s
been shown to really change the way people experience the most distressing moments is
to bring to mind the value that is sort of most relevant to the stressful situation.
So to give you an example last night I was on a flight coming back from Georgia. There
were crazy thunderstorms here in New York and we had a really difficult landing. And
I’m someone who hates flying. I’m afraid of flying. I hate turbulence. I get motion
sickness. It was just a disaster. And I’m literally like holding onto my seat and holding
onto the side of the window trying to stay in my seat despite the fact that I’m strapped
in. And what helps in those moments is to remember two of my values. One is courage.
That every time I get on an airplane I am demonstrating that this is something I care
about to actually express courage that I can help other people be brave. And also to recognize
that I value what travel gives me in life, that I value the fact that I was able to go
and meet with people who work in healthcare and talk to them about behavior change so
that they might support health and wellbeing in others. You know I value being able to
go places even if in the moment of the flight it’s incredibly distressing. And bringing
those things into the distressing moments seems to really protect people from the typical
sort of negative effects of those big moments of distress where you’re, you know, you’d
rather be anywhere else or you are starting to lose hope in your situation.

About the author


  1. The little bit of toxins & venoms , give you an immunity? A healthy immune system needs to evolve? If you don't use it ya lose it? Stress response training. I understand. Now what is the healthy frequency? Is there a Stress diet?

    Alan Watts Meditation & Mindfulness? With & without Stimuli.

  2. she makes it sound like stress is a singular response, to a singular issue. and that cultures/sub cultures whom readily admit they are "stressed"; have some kind of universal truth to tell, when crossed referenced to cultures/sub cultures whom readily admit they are happy…

    when you mash it all together the only real take away is; there is a certain kind of stress that a person carries when they make goals that don't come easy. those kind of goals have a balance, but have a place in our lives.

    everything else is predicated on the notion 'if you want them find out, ask them' about something that's subjective, and perceived with entirely different expectations.. and then measure it as if it's something that leaves the lips tangible, unified and carrying no handicap.

  3. Your full of shit stress is one of the biggest killers in the U.S. That is a real study, not 10 people of the street and never been peer reviewed, it cause heart falure high blood pressure low testosterone and estrogen no sex drive and your unable to sleep witch causes even more problems quality of life is trash so don't tell me smokeing a pack a day is good for the nation Because there the same thing

  4. Where's the happiness in a nation suffering from stress related health problems? Let's not keep the plebs stupid by implying that stress will make them happy.

  5. What I'm noticing from the posts here is that there appears to be a strong correlation between not agreeing with a study, and calling it "propaganda". Not liking the results of an experiment does not make the study wrong, or you right. Yes, you can certainly put into question its methodology, but just branding it "Orwellian propaganda" and thinking that perhaps bosses will use it to explore their employees does not mean it is false or erroneous. I'm not saying I agree with the study, only that people should try to take their biases out of the equation, and also their self-interest and ideological sentiment along with it. Just because I don't like something, it doesn't make it not true.

  6. How does this make sense…? There is no meaning to life, that's just idiots thinking they 'mean more' than others.

    I now only watch this shitbag channel for Bill Nye

  7. I think she means: Strenuous or arduous life. Living through hardships, rather than stressfull or stress which just wears you out.

  8. Or your like me and the stress is killing you. I work for a private IT company responsible for the tech needs of 300+ clients.

    At least in this field, as the average user has grown to have access to tech, use it for their everyday everythings; they have formed unrealistic expectations. There used to be a stage in my career in the late 90s where if I walked someone through something on the phone they were appreciative and enjoyed now knowing how to fix X problem on their own.

    These days I get more "This is to hard! This is why I pay you!!" So then I drive 1hr to push a power button.

    Downtime during the work day is unacceptable and anything of importance needs to be done after hours.

    Ironic you say health care. They are the most unhelpful slack ass bunch of people I've met. Yes, in some places your doctor is late inviting you in for your check up because he's trying to post to twitter or facebook.

    Sorry, but in a field where I'm hated on for being a white dude; constantly saying I'm over privileged; although I don't have any formal college … I'm sorry .. this is wrong.. I've contemplated suicide at times. Trying do your research among IT staff; I think you might see a slightly different picture.

  9. I think she has a point. Its all a balance but everyone who is thumbing down just sees the word stress and attributes negative connotations. Which is fair enough on the face of it, it does sounds like bullshit. But if you attribute what comes with a job, career and family you love you would say stress comes with that situation but it also develops you as a person. Positively and negatively.

  10. This makes perfect sense, you can't be relaxed without first being stressed, and the release from stress feels good; making you happier. Basically stressed people will have low-lows and high-highs and non-stressed people will only have forgettable lows and highs.

  11. Ha! People are all pissed and think this is some kind of incomprehensible leap of logic. I think everyone actually already knew that this was true. Recent research has shown that antioxidants can dramatically shorten the life of certain animals. It tuns out your heart need to fight free radicals and undergo stress to be healthy. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger; this expression is not always true but in many instances is. I personally remember and relish the vacations where things went wrong and we had to survive an ordeal more than I remember the vacations where everything went right.
    I could keep going with a ton of examples that support the proposal of this video and they are all super obvious. So if you don't agree, I feel like giving you the benefit of the doubt, so rethink it and you will probably see that if you had no stress and everything was handed to you and nothing was a struggle you would not be in a good place.

  12. I get what she's trying to say. Sometimes doing things that we don't want to do in the moment are good because they are what we want later so we are happier later. Like you feel good having clean clothes but not washing them ect. but these tasks aren't always stressful and often don't need to be. However many people choose to include stress in their lives because they like it.
    Maybe it helps them not think. Ignorance is bliss, but not really.

  13. Now im really jealous of all the stress the billions of starving people get.
    Plus i'm living in a country with universal health care so I don't even get to stress over crippling debt if I get sick 🙁

  14. The stress I have with my student debt, yeaaaah that gives me a whole lotta meaning. I can feel it right in my innards… and my wallet.

  15. I think what she is trying to say is best understood through her TED talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend?language=en

  16. Horribly simplified discussion on stress. America is stressed as all hell and less happy than most places. There are kinds of stress that healthy, but feeling pointless stress and feeling trapped and pointless is not healthy.

  17. I wish she would have defined what she means by stress, since the word is used in different ways. Is anxiety necessarily stress? I also wish she would say what she thinks we should take away from the scientific studies. I doubt her message is simply that we should let ourselves stress because we'll be happier and live longer. If it is though, why didn't she address all the negative things we hear about stress that would make us not want to experience it? (on top of the fact that stress is really unpleasant. ) If her book has something worthwhile to say, she didn't sell it in this video.

  18. yes, stress is good for you, work harder, do as your told, pay taxes, take on debt to buy shit you don't need. This is seriously right out of animal farm. They're not even trying to hide it any more.

  19. Hm
    I think it's different for different people…
    It's too easy making it black or white…
    Some people can't function with stress, and some love it.
    I am not functioning with stress, but I know people who are extremly bored without it…

  20. Yeah, leonard pearlin and his entire empirical legacy (not to mention Sapolsky) would like a word. This is patently bullshit. The mental and physical health issues that coincide with chronic stress are really, really not to be downplayed or spun as a positive when we know they are so harmful.

  21. I think she has a point. She has scientific proof to back up her claim, you guys don't have any proof for your counterclaim. She has no benefit in stating that stress is good, but the yoga companies, massage therapists, and phycologists etc do profit from saying its bad. Think before you reply or thumbs down a video because you are afraid of the truth.

  22. This makes sense, but I'd like to see a follow up study on if the outcome is the same with different stressors. Like people who work at a job they hate, then people who have little food and money, and then people who have only minor stressors who would usually classify themselves as happy.

    Mainly, I'd expect the people who have little to be the happiest, those with the horrible jobs the worst off, and those with very minor problems in the middle of the road.

  23. Well sure. But do you live longer?
    Cats that live indoor live longer then cats in the wild. They are under a a whole lot less stress.

  24. Wow, I thought I was going to be impressed to see so many perceptive comments, but, honestly, how is this big thinking? This has so many obvious flaws in its reasoning that just about anyone is going to call bullshit, with those most perceptive of all even calling propaganda, which is when you know things have sunk really low. I am yet to see one big thought on this channel.

  25. I wonder if this is still the case when take poverty into account. It seems like there'd be a huge difference between "My dream job is stressing me out." and "I'm stressing out because three jobs still aren't enough to feed my family".

  26. What type of stress? Being around people stresses me out because it gives me anxiety which shuts my brain down (why I'm terrible in group labs or projects) and increases my recovery time.

  27. i don't think the people who are saying, this is completely wrong aren't really looking at it from the right perspective. yes too much stress on someone who isnt a strong enough person to handle it will create depression and even suicide. however those people who are strong enough to handle all the hardships they face tend to feel that they have a more meaningful life because of it. that is really all this video is saying.

  28. I don't think she meant the kind of stress from working in a shitty job with low pay and constantly worrying about having enough cash to get through day to day life but rather the kind of stress from doing something you love. A passionate woodworker might be making a particularly beautiful piece of furniture that is causing them stress but it's the good kind of stress that she might be talking about. Sadly her ideas were so poorly communicated in the vid that it needs a thumb down. No way to be sure that what I think she meant is actually what she meant!

  29. People should really make nuances in stress. Months of frustration doesn't make people feel more rewarded or happier. Being an office clerk who is constantly picked on by his boss and co-workers has stress and definitely doesn't think that his life is that valuable. Those examples also don't live longer and they are sick more often and have greater chances of things like cancer. Short term stress like an evaluation that has an effect on a promotion however, thats good stress and it will make the person feel more accomplished and happier than when he/she was just emailed about a promotion without enduring the stress and the talk.

    So. Nuances people. Please. If we want to go forward in learning we also need to be specific.


    me; a person without a college degree or a job or a car, has had 3 burn outs and knows the difference between stress and stress.

  30. I feel like for example stress because of a representation I have to give and stress because of a terminal illness are quite different. My point is that there are probably different kinds/amounts of stress.

  31. Then why is it that when I google most stressed countries and then, the most happy countries, there is no correlation? Sounds like propaganda to keep working standards miserable for the middle and working class.

  32. If you are having a good time you are Likely NOT Stressed. Experiencing stress yesterday and being Stressed yesterday are different states of a mind.

  33. spoke to an old friend in Syria asked him the same questions.

    HE disagrees. No happiness, increased psychosis and mental illness from the stress everywhere. Drastically reduced life expectancy. ETC.. strange because based on your hypothesis, Syria should be one of the happiest places on earth right now.

    You really expect people to buy this nonsense. Stress is a killer. Nobody is happier in a stressful situation.The more stress you are under the more negative effects you are bound to feel.

    I'm glad most people can see right through this lame attempt at social conditioning for the benefit of the corporations.

    How about putting the study down and applying common sense.

  34. I'd need to see the actual study, but this really sounds like someone did a study that showed correlation, and they assumed causation. As some other people in the comments have mentioned, it's pretty obvious that the speaker is talking about stress from everyday occurrences in first world countries, not the distress caused by watching your family and friends get gunned down by militant extremists. And yes, countries with higher levels of the stress she's talking about are typically happier, but drawing the conclusion that this stress causes happiness from this fact seems a bit silly. It makes much more sense to look at the fact that the typically happier societies have very little of the distress that the most unhappy countries on Earth have, but more of the modern everyday life stress, and to realize that it's because the way the happier societies are constructed causes both stress and happiness. The basic needs of most people, in first world countries are met, or at least a larger portion than in developing countries, leaving them the opportunity to pursue things that interest them, rather than just trying to stay alive, and the opportunity to pursue your interests obviously leads to a happier and more fulfilling life. At the same time, pursuing interests or even just working a job you might not particularly like will present you with challenges, which cause the stress which is good for developing your character, teaching you how to overcome obstacles. There is necessary stress and unnecessary stress, not enough necessary stress in your life makes you into a useless person who can't cope with society or even the most minute difficulties in life, and too much unnecessary stress causes your health to fail. Generalizing the stresses like this seems to do seems really counterproductive, almost like the full swing opposite of the people who think they should avoid all sources of stress in their lives by staying in their "safe spaces" as much as they can, and that society should have to help them do so but also let them somehow be just as successful as the people who have gone through the struggle of becoming a functioning member of society. And I think any intelligent person can see how ridiculous that is. Stress that helps you develop as a person is good, and shouldn't be avoided at every turn, and constructive stress can lead you to become a person who is more able to achieve happiness, but at the same time I don't think we should just be encouraging stress across the board by saying stress causes happiness. Of course, it's entirely possible (and I like to think likely) that this is the point the speaker was trying to make, but just didn't have the time to clarify the difference between types of stress, and to which type she was referring. If this isn't the case, then it seems more likely that the position that stress is good from you can only come from someone who has experienced little to no non-constructive stress in their life. Someone who was able to afford to go to a good college without having to take out loans they'd never be able to pay off, someone who hasn't had to wonder if they would be able to pay next month's bills. Basically, someone who has only ever experienced the type of stress that we are able to and meant to experience and be better for having experienced it, In other words, someone who has had a good life and cannot relate to the impoverished masses who never get to go to college, who have to start working as soon as they leave high school if they want to have a life even slightly better than just living on welfare.

  35. "I dont lik stress. Dis vid stupid. Dislike."
    How about give a little more credit to someone who's doing research into a topic?

    As she explains in this video: http://bigthink.com/videos/the-threat-and-challenge-response

    There are different forms of stress she considers in this conclusion of happier stressful nations. Having a wedding, running a marathon, or getting your driving licence exam are all considered stressful experiences.
    They can be "positive" stressful moments, which (with a positive outcome) give meaning to our lives and make us feel happier.

    Doesn't that make sense?

  36. Oh, oh? Stress is good? Stress is happiness?
    You hear that terminal stress-induced illness? We are all happy now! C:

    I think she's confusing stress with something else…
    Performing a work-task that requires time and effort, within a limited amount of time can tickle the parts of your brain that causes temporary psychological "annoyance", which of course some handle better than others, however…

    After an all-night'er of work/studying and heavily sleep-deprived, when suddenly finding yourself doing everything in your power to prevent an alcoholic parent from finishing that bottle of liquor, before their day of work in hopes of them not losing that job, but fail miserably to stop them and moments later find yourself standing on a puddle of blood, covering a severed artery with a soggy cloth on said parent, after stumbling over their own intoxicated self and lethally injuring themselves on the way down the stairs, while desperately calling for an ambulance and even when it arrives; -not knowing if you will be able to attain this much-desired sleep that you so wanted one and a half hour earlier, amidst aforementioned events…

    This is stress.
    [slams desk]
    THIS IS STRESS!! And don't you dare tell me this is happiness!

  37. This is flat out wrong… looking back on something bad will make you feel good in the moment but stress itself it not something that makes people "happy". The data has been twisted to try to show a "bright" side to stress but it's just not true.

  38. thinks she puts it a little wrong. "things that are meaningful create stress". I would rather say "if someone does something he she feels is meaningful, then he she tend to create stress in response".
    stress doesnt seem necessary to create meaning or happiness, its just that when people do stuff that makes them experience meaning or happiness they tend to stress because they have a strong desire. its something they want to do, and that can build up some pressure for the person trying to do what he wants to do. hence, "wanting"/"desire" can create stress. because he she so strongly wants a thing to happen that he she will stress to make it happen. 

    looks like the users commenting understood it as stress = happiness, which is a pretty stupid way to interpret the data McGonigal presented. Rock on stupid hippies!

  39. A great topic for debate this video 🙂 Gotta say you've used Stress as a broad umbrella term…. maybe different types of stress are positive?

  40. When you consider what you're stressing on about, that could configure your idea of whether or not this video has some sort of relevance.

    This all makes perfect sense to me.
    Consider you work at a burger joint and hate it, and are constantly "stressed" out. You might not be happy with your job and you're obviously also stressed.

    Now imagine you enjoy your job and you are stressed, your solving a problem you want to now solve.

    Consider the last scenario.
    Your job doesn't stress you out but you also aren't happy. You now don't have enough drive to find yourself consumed enough to solve problems within your work.

    It's clear that by not solving and or getting to the completion of your goals in example 2. that you love and care for your passion will stress you out.

    This doesn't go without saying that it would be nice to not be stressed, but it's an understandable trade off that makes perfect sense.

    That's why better economy's and better marketed nations are more stressed.

  41. Yeah, I call bullshit. Ask anyone with PTSD (ie: military personnel, police officers) how happy they are with high levels of stress in their lives. Ask a bullied teen how much their bully brings meaning into their lives. Ask an underpaid worker with a psychologically abusive boss how happy they are. What an appalling video. What the hell happened to this channel??

  42. So stressed out people who have gone through really bad times are more likely to tell you they are happy? I guess that if you feel like shit most of the time it doesn't take so much to make you happy.

  43. Being stressed out from not knowing how I'm going to fill up my gas tank next week makes me happier? This is my first Big Think video downvote.

  44. Countries where people said they felt more stress yesterday is probably a country with people who are more sensitive towards stressful things. Maybe because they have less stress or because they didn't shut their brains off. I'm thinking about a chinese builder, who experiences stress everyday but got blind towards it because that's how you survive the hard working conditions.

  45. so Iraqis are a happy nation!!!??…ohhh wait you dont know how a stressed Iraqi feels!.. typical american living in her typical american bubble…

  46. It really depends on the kind of stress as well as its severity. Too much stress is bad, no stress indicates lack of a drive/care/active life I suppose

  47. To all the Naysayers, I must admit that I was highly skeptical about this, but based on the strength of her previous book on willpower, I ‘read’ The Upside of Stress (actually listened to the audio book version). I have to tell you, the information is AWESOME! I’ve had life-long issues with anxiety, and now I realize that I have a SUPER-POWER! My psyche has been amping me up to deal with life’s challenges, and all the while I’ve been fighting it by trying to calm down. We’ve been done a serious disservice with the “never-let-them-see-you-sweat” meme. If ‘they’ see you sweat, then they should worry! Being cool and calm means you are low energy and low competence. Joy, love, excitement, anxiety, fear, anger, etc. all use the same biological systems and are all expressions of emotional energy. They are just different flavours of the same type of thing. Just like coffee and red wine are acquired tastes, stress can be exquisite if you embrace it rather than run from it. Avoiding the intensity of anxiety, stress, etc. boxes you into a smaller and smaller arena of life. The ‘secret’ or rather the elusive obvious aspect of stress is that there are many different manifestations of it and once you cease to fear it, you can channel that energy to best foster your success.

  48. i think its more complicated than the word stress. example, yesterday i was very sick, it stressed me out. it did not make me happier. another example, i had a very stressful time in high school, i was very unhappy. now in college i have NO stress at all, and im happier. but if we were talking stress towards a desired goal, that would make me happier. so this video is being too generic.

  49. Personally, I enjoy recognizing my appreciation of these things daily while sidestepping stressful situations whenever possible.

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