Navigating the Tension Between Individual and Collective Happiness in America

We are all entitled to seek out our own happiness as established in the Declaration of Independence, yet this right has been called into question amidst a nation that is becoming increasingly unequal, with social division and loneliness on the rise. Consequently, we must confront and reconcile an essential tension between individual satisfaction and collective contentment. In this blog post, I will navigate the tension between individual and collective happiness in America. 

The State of Happiness in America

Recent evidence indicates that American happiness is on the decline. The 2020 survey by the American Psychological Association discovered 67% of Americans felt overwhelmed because of their uncertainties about our nation’s future. Additionally, a 2019 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed an alarming 35% rise in suicides since 1999 – a clear indication that something needs to be done to reverse this trend and bolster overall wellbeing in America.

Despite the alarming numbers, not all is lost. An American Psychological Association survey found that a vast majority of Americans (71%) believe they can make an impact on the world around them. Even more encouraging are Gallup poll results from 2020 which indicate that 7 out of 10 people in America feel content with their personal lives and circumstances.

9The Tension between Individual and Collective Happiness

Ever since the birth of our nation, a tug-of-war between individual and collective happiness has been present. Nowadays, however, it is more obvious than ever before due to an uptick in inequality and a decrease in social interactions that make it tough for individuals to attain joyfulness.

While one’s personal happiness may be linked to the acquisition of material wealth or individual success, this ambition can come at a cost to collective contentment. Economist Richard Wilkinson argues that “increasing equality leads to more connected societies and thus happier nations.” Therefore, we must prioritize togetherness if we are ever going to achieve true joy for everyone.

While collective happiness is usually identified with the well-being of a whole community, it can come at the price of individual contentment. For instance, Robert Putnam, a political scientist asserts that “individuals who become actively engaged in communal activities oftentimes experience their personal sense of satisfaction decline”. Henceforth emphasizing how pursuing collective joy might affect one’s own life and feelings negatively.


Navigating the Tension

Hence, how can we reconcile the dichotomy between individual and collective joy? The answer is complicated. But fortunately, there are certain measures that you can take to aid in this pursuit. To begin with, it’s fundamental to comprehend that these two concepts of gratification are not at odds with each other; they must work in tandem for true success. As expressed by the Declaration of Independence: “the quest for happiness” is a basic right! This implies that our nation’s citizens should never prioritize their own wellbeing over others’.

Secondly, it is essential to recognize that the pursuit of joyfulness is anything but a zero-sum game. As economist Richard Layard put it, “It has been embedded in human civilization since ages.” When we strive towards bettering our community’s condition, simultaneously we are raising our own quality of life too.

At last, we must understand that attaining joy is a collective endeavor. We cannot rely solely on the government or outside establishments to generate pleasure. As Robert Putnam, political scientist emphasizes,”There’s no governmental program or private initiative that can replace citizens’ participation in their own community”. It’s our responsibility to take part and strive for a merrier culture together.




The conflicting nature of individual and collective contentment has been a prevalent theme in American life since its beginnings. In today’s day and age, this struggle is particularly discernible as inequality rises while social ties wane. Still, it must be understood that personal satisfaction and communal bliss are not incompatible – the pursuit of joy doesn’t have to lead to one side suffering at the expense of another. Collaborating to bring about a healthier and happier community can have an uplifting effect on our own quality of life. Taking individual responsibility for the betterment of society is paramount, as we recognize that there are many complexities in accomplishing this goal. By recognizing and navigating these tensions, we take real steps toward building a more cohesive and joyous world.


Let us know in the comments below what you will do to get closer to individual and collective happiness!

See Also: Navigating the New Normal: Tips for Maintaining Mental Health in a Post-Pandemic World

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