Secrets to lowering the Misery Index

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Secrets to lowering the Misery Index

The author is an international news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Gallup publishes the Misery Index after surveying 150,000 people in 140 countries every year. Rather than using a structured questionnaire, the company hires interviewers in each country. Then it educates and dispatches them across the country to meet people of all walks of life in person.

Gallup quantifies misery by adding emotional anguish from sadness, stress, anger and worry to physical pain. In 2006, the first year of the survey, the index was 24, and last year, it rose to 33. In the meantime, the Positive Experience Index based on satisfaction, pleasure, laughter, respect and learning rose by only one notch, from 68 to 69, in the same period.

Last month, Gallup CEO Jim Clifton wrote about five causes of increasing misery in a contribution to the Economist: poverty, loneliness, fatigue, inequality and social media. He explained that the decreasing trend of global hunger has stopped, the harm of loneliness is equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, and statistics show that workers are more likely to be exposed to negative emotions than the unemployed.

What inequality and social media have in common is “comparison.” Inequality inevitably leads to comparison. Social media has made comparison routine. Comparing to friends and neighbors is hard enough, but on social media, people around the world invite users deep into their homes to show off. Clifton warned that comparison is stealing joy.

Koreans are no exception to misery from comparison. Korea has long had the highest suicide rate among the OECD member countries. Alcohol-related deaths nearly doubled to 5,155 in 2020 over the past two decades. Drug offenders are on the rise. Experts diagnose that as social media is widely used, people feel a sense of deprivation that they are worth less than others.

Should we stop comparing to lower the misery index? University of Toronto Professor George Peterson wrote in “12 Rules for Life” that comparison should not be done with others but with self. Rather than stop comparing, change the object of comparison. Rather than blaming your rival, boss or capitalism, clean your desk first. Spend at least one minute a day to organize the stack of documents on your desk. Another useful tip is to think one to five minutes ahead rather than looking far to the future. When you face the immediate problem and resolve it, you can meet today’s yourself, less miserable than yesterday’s you.
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