There's more misery in people's lives today than a decade ago.
So says a new study on life's negatives from the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center, which conducts social science research for government agencies, educational institutions, non-profit organizations and private corporations.
The researchers surveyed 1,340 people about negative life events and found that the 2004 respondents had more troubles than those who were surveyed in 1991.
"The anticipation would have been that problems would have been down," says Tom Smith, the study's author. He says good economic years during the '90s would have brought an expectation of fewer problems, not more.
Overall, the percentage who reported at least one significant negative life event increased from 88% to 92%. Most of the problems were related to increased incidents of illness and the inability to afford medical care; mounting bills; unemployment; and troubled romantic relationships.
On a more positive note, fewer of those surveyed reported having trouble with crime or the law.
The University of Chicago report is part of a larger study known as the larger General Social Survey, which is supported by the National Science Foundation and financed through grants .
Some of the problems outlined in the study were more complicated than just a single bad event. For instance, the inability to afford health care rose from 7% in 1991 to 11% in 2004. Those who said they lacked health insurance increased from 12% to 18%. On the romantic front, the percentage who reported breaking up with a steady partner doubled from 4% to 8%.
But people shouldn't despair even if there is trouble around them. Bad experiences don't necessarily make people unhappy, says Jonathan Haidt, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and author of the new book The Happiness Hypothesis.
He advises a three-point check-up on the state of personal relationships, the work environment and control over daily life, because improving those areas will boost happiness.