March 29, 2024

The Happiness Gap

The Happiness Gap

The Gallup World Happiness Report just came out. One of the most interesting findings was that in the US, people ages 60 and up are far happier than those under 30. The US dropped out of the top 20 for the first time since the report was launched in 2012 (we’re now at #23), driven by a decline in happiness among this younger cohort. Those under age 30 registered happiness levels that put us at #62 in the world. In sharp contrast, Americans ages 60 and up reported happiness levels that put us at #10 on the planet.

In addition to being a CEO, I’m a father. It truly concerns me that so many young people are not very happy at a time when they are just starting out in life. One culprit is loneliness, which peaks at age 20, according to an earlier study. Many younger adults also mentioned a lack of social support.

In many ways, the youngest generations of adults have had it a lot harder than older ones. They not only went through the isolation of the pandemic but also grew up on screens, both in school and out. Instead of coming to their workplace every day, many spend a fair amount of time working remotely, which can be lonely if no one else is at home. That has meant steeper challenges in finding genuine connections.

One thing I found interesting is that happiness among young Americans started to dip after the period from 2006 to 2010, when happiness among the young was greater than for older groups. It was during that time that new technologies really began changing life in America in both positive and negative ways. The iPhone, for instance, came out in 2007, and with it, many changes in human behavior, like texting instead of picking up the phone. We’re now seeing some of the impacts. It’s amazing how reluctant people are to actually make a phone call instead of emailing, texting, and searching it up.

Fortunately, the workplace can be the ideal place to find genuine connections and real, lifetime friends. Gallup found in another survey that having a best friend at work is one of the most important predictors of whether someone will stay with their employer. The reason I go to an office almost every day is to interact with people. Sure, the tasks of work can be done remotely and sometimes more effectively, but there’s no substitute for human connection.

I’m well aware that young professionals may feel uncomfortable reaching out to colleagues or senior team members as they start to find their professional footing. As a result, there’s a big opportunity for those who are further into their careers to throw out the welcome mat. There are many ways to do this—offering new colleagues insights on the unwritten rules of the profession, sharing valuable know-how at in-house or association-based educational programs, or simply taking a bunch of new hires to coffee or lunch—as many of our team members are already doing.

We prioritize these aspects of our culture so much because we believe that every individual on our team is more likely to reach their full potential if they have a great experience coming into the office. Feeling like others on the team are happy to see you and interested in how you are doing can be very motivating.

I learned this from Ed Marcum & Ed Kliegman, my bosses at Marcum, in the early days of our firm. They always made me feel like I mattered to them, not just as another accountant to help get the work done but as someone who shared their passion for the profession. Many years have passed since then, but I still appreciate that they always made me feel I was part of something bigger than myself—and that I had friends who were traveling the same career path.

I hope that beyond opportunities for challenging work and professional growth, every individual who works alongside us can benefit from the camaraderie and community that have made all of my years at Marcum so meaningful. There may be a happiness gap outside the walls of our firm, but we’re doing all we can to make sure our associates are not experiencing it when they come together to serve our clients.

Today is Good Friday, followed by Easter this coming Sunday. To all who celebrate, Happy Easter.

On another note, the Baltimore bridge collapse was a heartbreaking reminder of how fragile life can be. Many details are still emerging, but as of this writing, it appears that six people lost their lives. It was, as Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott put it, a tragic accident and an unthinkable tragedy. On behalf of all of us at Marcum, I’d like to wish a speedy recovery to those injured and express our deepest condolences to the families of those whose lives were lost.