SURVEY SAYS: Do You Feel Better Today than a Year Ago?

January 14, 2010 ( - Last week I saw this question posed on Twitter – and I’ve given it a lot of thought since then.

This week I asked readers “Do you feel happier/better off than you were at this time last year?”  And the answers were, as you might expect – varied.

A clear plurality – 32.3% – responded an emphatic “yes!” to that question.  Moreover, another 18% agreed that they felt better now – but tempered that response by saying “but that says more about a year ago than it does now.”

That said, 16% said they didn’t feel better – that they felt pretty much the same, while another 16% said that they didn’t feel better, they felt worse.      

As for the remaining 19% – they went with the “none of those choices really work for me” choice.  What did work for them?  Well, for the very most part, they either felt better about some things, but not about others – some said they felt happier, but not necessarily better off (“I feel less stress about the market and finances, but about the same on the happiness meter,” noted one) – others were better off, but not necessarily happier (including the reader who said “Financially, I am certainly not better off than a year ago, but I continue to be blessed with three healthy, happy, and thriving children, and THAT makes me infinitely happy”). 

There were some who weren’t quite sure how to define “happier” (or “better off”, for that matter), and for some – like the reader who said “I feel about 43% better off than one year ago!” – well, there just wasn’t an absolute response.  One reader said simply that they “Can't remember a year ago”. 

Another reader noted, “A year ago, at this time, I was unemployed.  Now, I have a great job that I love, good pay, and a very supportive boss.  Couldn't ask for more...”   

I wasn’t sure how to categorize the reader who noted “My mother-in-law moved out.”

Other responses in the “other” category included:  

Yes and no.

It really depends on what aspect of life you are referring to.  Professionally my answer is an absolute NO!  My stress level at work is through the roof (I can feel my blood pressure rise the minute I get to my desk in the morning), there are practically no aspects of my job that I enjoy doing, my workload is completely unmanageable and I work for the King of delegating everything that comes across his desk to yours truly.  Personally however, I am happier.  Thank goodness I have a wonderful husband and three very healthy and happy children who always put a smile on my face when I walk through the door.  If it weren't for them I'd probably be in the looney bin right now, rather than sitting here answering this question!

Yes because I survived a really bad year at our company employment wise - and I am one year closer to retirement!

"Happier? No

Better off? Yes"

Because we helped the kids out financially last year we have a little catching up to do, but that's not a big thing.  Our 2-year old grandson has some health issues and, or course, we're concerned.  I'm a pretty positive thinking person, so I have to say I'm happy, no matter what is going on.

This will depend on our forth coming "end of year" bonus. When and if it ever happens. If I hear "We're hoping next payroll" one more time I'm gonna scream. I'm not getting my hopes up.

I feel better about some things but worse about others.  My job situation is slightly better (someone at my level is retiring in February so my job is more secure) but I'm disappointed that I didn't make better progress on my health goals.  Finances are about the same although my year end bonus was a little disappointing.  So all in all, its a mixture.

Can't remember a year ago.

I think the shock of the situation is over so in that sense I feel better.  However, the economic impact the last two years has had on myself and others in my immediate family will take years to recover.

Since I was just wrongfully dismissed from my job on the first day of the year, I definitely do not "feel" better off right now. However, since new management at my prior employer was absolutely despicable, I may feel happier soon, particularly if I can land a new position shortly.

"""Happiness"" and being ""better off"" are separate states and concepts to me.  Nothing over the past year has changed my level of happiness.  Each individual is responsible for their own state of happiness.


As for ""being better off"" I can certainly say with all of the insane, out-of-control spending our President and Congress have done and unfortunately still want to do, I am not ""better off"" than this time last year."

I endured some personal struggles toward the end of 2009, one of which was my ex-husband's job loss which resulted in my having to support my children entirely on my own.  Financially, I am certainly not better off than a year ago, but I continue to be blessed with three healthy, happy, and thriving children, and THAT makes me infinitely happy.

I feel about 43% better off than one year ago!

Define happier?

I am happier, but not necessarily better off.  I have declared 2010 the year of me.  After years of putting others first, I have signed up to run a half marathon in the spring, for me (sure hope it gets above freezing soon) and I am knitting a sweater for me.

I feel happier now than I did a year ago due to personal reflection on how bad things actually could be.  I do not feel better off than last year.  Due to stagnant wages and the battles being waged on bonuses for the industry I work in, my income has not kept pace with the cost of living in the Northeast.  I have never received a million $ bonus or anything remotely close to that but feel the effects of people's anger at those who do.  People outside the financial industry don't realize it's not every company nor every person who receives large bonuses.  The peons of these companies appreciate the bonuses we do get and typically put the money right back into the economy.

I am happier, but not necessarily because I'm better off.  I've simplified a lot of things and stopped sweating the small stuff.

I feel less stress about the market and finances, but about the same on the happiness meter.

One of my favorite responses was the reader who said they “…work for the King of delegating everything that comes across his desk to yours truly”, but then went on to say “Thank goodness I have a wonderful husband and three very healthy and happy children who always put a smile on my face when I walk through the door.  If it weren't for them I'd probably be in the looney bin right now, rather than sitting here answering this question!”      

But this week’s Editor’s Choice goes to the reader who said they were happier “…because I survived a really bad year at our company employment wise - and I am one year closer to retirement!” 

Thanks to everyone who participated in our survey! And I hope you enjoy – or at least appreciate – some of this week’s verbatims on the following pages!

A year ago I was not worried that my husband or I might lose our jobs, now it is almost a constant worry.  A year ago I was not worried about my kids future but now I think they will not be able to even match our (their parents) standard of living.  A year ago I was not worried about the direction our country was going and now I fear for the future.  I am ordinarily an optimist but I feel beat down by the bad news that just keeps coming.

Less uncertainty, but more grim reality.

A year ago I hadn't taken three 10% pay cuts, a 35% healthcare cost increase and a lost match to my 401k. But on the other hand, with the exception of my mortgage, which is a killer every month, I am out of debt.

But I feel that I will be happier and better off next year, then the next year,, the next, ...........

I'll always remember the crooked old finger waging back and saying "...but you got your good health." Now that I've settled into the later stages of career, empty-nested and accepted the counselor role of life & work, I can reflect on the many truisms of generations past.  I finally understand and fully agree that "youth is wasted on the young."

I am much more optimistic and we continue to grow our business.

I feel very blessed to have a wonderful family, friends and great job, but as we listen to the news and according to the news, unemployment is higher, we are deeper in debt as a country, and people continue to lose their homes, jobs and any sense of stability, things feel worse because I feel for those in need whatever that need may be

Glad it is 2010 and not 2009.

"Given that my spouse was handed a 10% pay cut yesterday (don't get me wrong, I'm grateful he's still employed) and there is uncertainty at my employer about the future of my job, interest rates on credit cards are going up, I own two orphaned cars, taxes are on the rise, my health plan benefits may well be taxed (unfairly and it makes NO SENSE), and I won't even get into all the other littler stuff,  the answer is NO, NO, NO, NO.  What bothers me more than anything else is seeing the country head for what I believe is a financial trainwreck with health care reform and the helplessness I feel that the voice of the majority is not heard.  The wheeling and dealing was disgraceful and shameful.  It adds cost and the problem, in my estimation, is even remotely solved by the actions being contemplated.  Over everything, I think what contributes more than anything to my feeling less well off this year is the hopelessness that I can have any influence or control over what happens to me. Many really important issues are in the hands of people I do not trust at all and who have proven themselves to be self dealing and power hungry. I'm afraid there's no cutesy quote here - just a sense of despair.

On the other hand, we are both still employed and our health is reasonably good. I am focusing all my attention on the positive things and trying to let the rest go.  What will happen, will happen and I will just have to deal."

We are a small, ESOP owned company.  We have laid off 30 people in the last year.  Some of these people I have known for 20+ years.  It's similar to losing a family member.  Although the survivor's guilt has eased a bit, I don't think this company will ever be the same.

Even though my compensation is down at least 20% from a year ago and there are no raises this year, we are not facing the staff reductions of a year ago.  I made it through the cuts.  My job is more challenging/frustrating.  Everyone around me is facing the same issues, so I can't look to them for help.  I'm just grateful to have a job that provides challenge and some compensation.  It beats the alternative!

It was hard to find anything to be optimistic about a year ago, especially with the economic situation.  We're clearly not out of the woods, but it's easier to believe that things will recover in time.  Now if our politicians could just put the interests of the country above their personal interests and those of their parties....then my outlook might really improve!

For the first time in the last eight years, we have someone leading this country with an I.Q. that gives us hope that the future can be brighter.  It will take time, as it always does, to clean up the disastrous mess of the past administration.  We must be patient, cooperative, and optimistic for the future and refrain from listening to all the fear mongers.

I keep wondering how I'm going to get my three children through college.  My college loan bill is doubling in February to $500 a month and I have 6 more years of two in college at the same time.  In addition, I'm concerned that my oldest, who graduates in another year won't be able to find a job, even though he is majoring in computer information systems which should be a pretty good field.

I may be making less money, but the events of the past year forced me to focus on what really matters - my health, my family and friends and being happy with having "enough".  It also forced me to get serious about paying off my house and I am very close to being totally debt free, which is critical for my peace of mind in these times.

Every year is better than the last.  I have a great job, a wonderful husband, and my health.  I learn new things every day; especially how to cope better with all that life has to offer.  I am grateful for what life has given me so I try to share my gifts with others.

It has been a year of change, for me personally and for the nation/world.  Change is never easy and it requires participation, or at the very least decisions in how we will respond and act.  I have been fortunate to begin a new job, in a new industry to me, with wonderful colleagues, despite the bleak economic landscape.  It has been one of the best moves I have made.  I am encouraged by the level of discourse in WDC and the willingness, finally, to address long standing issues.  Hooray for the spirited debate, a sign of the democratic process in action.  This must happen for us to move forward.  I am pleased to see an increase in positive US engagement with other nations, and, at the very least the willingness of our national leaders to participate with other nations in open dialogue.  How refreshing.  Winston Churchill said "Let's move forward together".  2009 was a year in which steps were taken in this direction.

My household included a four-month-old and a 23-month-old this time last year.  I feel more rested now.

I do feel happier/better off than I was this time last year not because circumstances have necessarily improved but just because I'm learning to trust God more regardless of the circumstances.

Things are so outrageously unbearable right now.  In real life it's awful, but if this were the plot of a movie, I'm sure it would be a box office hit.

last year the economy was terrible, we were faced with pending layoffs, etc.  This year, we're looking at an improving economy and stable workforce.  I'm still not recruiting or even replacing those we layed off, so its not great, just better.  Personally, I'm a year older, financially better than last year at this time, physically, about the same, just more tired.  So, overall, better.

I feel worse than I did last year, but I think it is due to my awareness of the changes that I need to make or am making in my life.  So, by this time next year I hope to feel happier, more fullfilled.

Although we're under a merit/401(k) match freeze at my company, I still feel better off than a year ago.  The overall economic outlook just seems brighter to me.  Despite our illustrious president's best attempts to sink our economy with his spending plans, bailouts, and inevitable tax increases, I continue to have faith in the power of the free market and the spirit of entrepreneurs -- assuming, of course, that our illustrious president and his congressional co-conspirators allow the free market to continue to thrive.  If not, we're all sunk, and I'm moving to a remote tropical island to live out my days as a hermit.

Successful at work, stronger marriage, youngest child maturing so that she's really become a joy to be around and the light at the end of the tunnel with college tuition (first one finished, second one finished next year and youngest in two and a half years).  Everybody's healthy and employed.  We have lots to be thankful for and happy about!

A year ago, at this time, I was unemployed.  Now, I have a great job that I love, good pay, and a very supportive boss.  Couldn't ask for more...

My mother-in-law moved out.

Even though I am still quite cautious about the economy, the market is better, my 401(k) has recovered and both my kids have full time jobs.  The last definitely makes me happier than last year.

Things are looking up for me.  Last year was not a great year...just a good year...and it started out like sh%t.

You are right, there ARE a lot of individual elements answering this. Feeling more secure about the financial world - stock market, etc. Happily divorced (there's an oxymoron for you!). Daring to dream there's something better out there (in many aspects of life). Planning my first 'real' vacation. Still smoke-free (6 weeks tomorrow). I'm very hopeful it will be a GREAT year!!

It's not even close!  Last year I was uprooted and merged into a company I didn't want to work for in an office I hated going to with a 2 hour commute.  Now I work for myself and love going to my office, which is in my home.  Although I think my boss (ME) is tougher on me now, the commute is a lot better!

I'm unemployed now (RIF), but I'm much happier.  I guess that says a lot about how much I really didn't like my job anymore!

I have a new job that requires little to no travel and I baby #2 is on the way.

Compliance season is the most stressful time of the year for those of us in recordkeeping. It's long hours of deciphering incomplete data and even longer hours explaining the results/consequences to HCEs. At least I get a chuckle out of the seasonal request by at least one HCE to speak directly to this ERISA woman. Honestly, who is she to say how much they can put into or keep in a 401k plan? On the personal front, the over the top bills from Christmas are rolling in, home owners insurance is up for renewal, property taxes are due, my 401k balance still hasn’t recovered, plus Uncle Sam still wants his 1040 and payment by April 15th!  With all that said..... I guess I'm about the same. At least I have a job and my families heath to be thankful for.

I didn't get a raise last year (July 1 fiscal year), but at least I still have a job!

Not necessarily better off financially, but happier for other reasons.

Happy is such a subjective happiness depends on the day and week. I feel more grateful every day for my health, the health of my family, and our ability to live in comfort with all of our true needs more than adequately taken care of.

I was recovering from knee surgery at this time last year so maybe it was the medication, but I did not feel like life was that bad.  A year later, while I'm happy rehab is over it slammed home that I am getting older and parts cannot be fixed quickly and certainly not "like new".  With increasing debt, no raises (again) and 401k balances more like 101k, am I better off financially?  No.  However, since I am worth more dead and work is likely to kill me, at least the boys will be taken care of so that makes me happy.

The reports all seem to say that the recession is over but our company isn't seeing it yet.  Our sales forecast is low which means the paycut and the elimination of the 401(k) match are not coming back anytime soon.  My husband did get his paycut back but his company is taking advantage of the poor job market and is stalling a promotion that was supposed to be put through months ago.  I have hopes that things are getting better but it will be a slow recovery.

Seems like a no-brainer on the "better off" part.  Who, with all that has happened, could feel better off this year over last?  Happiness is another issue because it is personal and a matter of choice.

"I think much of it has to do with convincing yourself to get out of your funk if you are upset or maintaining the positive attitude if you are happy!  I was miserable a year ago, but I took hold of my future, thought it into existence, and took the necessary steps to ensure that I would be in a happier place--which I am now.

"This time last year my retirement accounts and real estate investments were dropping like a stone with no end in sight.  I was worried about having to work until, well, until I died.  The opposition party in Washington evaporated overnight.  Fear and dread ruled the day. 

This year my investments are almost back to where they were before the crisis.  I may be able to retire someday.  Like the Phoenix, an opposition party may appear out of its ashes.  Hope is alive."