Loneliness, life satisfaction, and time

For The Pudding, Alvin Chang examines loneliness through the lens of individual responses from the American Time Use Survey:

In this story, we’ll go through 24 hours of a typical weekend day in 2021. We know what people did – and who they did it with – because, since 2003, the American Time Use Survey has asked people to track how they use their time.

By the end of the day, we’ll learn that Martin’s isolation isn’t unique. In fact, loneliness has become a far more common experience in the last few decades – and it was supercharged by the pandemic.

The heart of the piece is in the anti-aggregate view of individuals through 24 hours. See each person’s schedule, who they spend time with, and how that changes through the day. Sorting draws patterns. The scrolly clock on the right ticks. And it works on mobile. Chang makes the data immediately relatable.

See it.

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Best Possible Life More Common with Age

People scored their current life from 0 to 10, where 0 is their worst possible life and 10 is their best possible life. The older they were, the more likely they were to say they were living their best.

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Mixed Feelings of Happiness and Meaning

One might think that where we find meaning in our lives, we also find happiness. This is the case a lot of the time, but meaning and happiness do not always go together. Sometimes we need to pursue meaning without the happiness.

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Happiness and Meaning

We looked at what makes people happy. We looked at activities that people rate as meaningful. Now let’s put them together and see what people rate as both meaningful and joy-inducing.

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When Americans Are Happiest

We saw that life satisfaction changes with age, based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the same survey, people were also asked about their happiness throughout the day when they ate, traveled, watched television, took care of kids, and other activities.

People reported happiness on a scale from 0 to 6, where 0 was not happy at all and 6 was very happy. The animation above shows the average happiness for the fifty most common activities. It runs from age 20 to 70.

Work, as you might imagine, sticks around the bottom of the range; eating and drinking lingers around the middle and the top; and socializing sticks around the top. The smaller circles show more variation over time, as kids and grandkids enter the picture and retirement kicks in.


The data comes from the well-being module of the 2021 American Time Use Survey. I downloaded microdata via IPUMS. I made the animation with R.

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Life Satisfaction and Age

People were asked to score their life satisfaction from 0 to 10, where 10 is the best possible life and 0 is the worst possible life. This is the average score by age. It might be time to rethink life.

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Feelings at Work

Are people happy at work? The American Time Use Survey asks people to score their happiness from 0 to 6, where 0 is not happy at all and 6 is very happy. Here’s how people answered

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Where We Find Meaning in the Everyday

The American Time Use Survey asks people to log their activities for a day, and in the most recent release, people also rated the meaningfulness of the activities. Here’s how activity categories rated, sorted by most meaningful to least meaningful.

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Most people think their employers don’t care about their well-being

Based on polls by Gallup, almost half of U.S. employees thought their employers cared about their well-being early on in the pandemic. That sentiment did not last:

Fewer than one in four U.S. employees feel strongly that their organization cares about their wellbeing — the lowest percentage in nearly a decade.

This finding has significant implications, as work and life have never been more blended and employee wellbeing matters more than ever– to employees and the resiliency of organizations. The discovery is based on a random sample of 15,001 full and part-time U.S. employees who were surveyed in February 2022.

This seems not good? Or maybe it’s just life’s terrible way of saying it’s healing.

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Is Facebook making you sad? Research evaluating social media use and impacts on mental well-being inconclusive

There are more than 500 million people interacting with Facebook from countries all over the world every single day, and that number is growing. On August 24, 2015 Facebook reached a milestone when, for the first time, one billion users … Continue reading »

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