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Americans are more excited about their lives than they've been in 40 years

This BASE jumper is in Shanghai but nonetheless symbolizes the nonstop excitement of Americans' lives.
This BASE jumper is in Shanghai but nonetheless symbolizes the nonstop excitement of Americans' lives.
Dylan Matthews is a senior correspondent and head writer for Vox's Future Perfect section and has worked at Vox since 2014. He is particularly interested in global health and pandemic prevention, anti-poverty efforts, economic policy and theory, and conflicts about the right way to do philanthropy.

Tucked into Jonathan Clements' financial advice column in the Wall Street Journal this past Friday is this alarming-seeming statistic: fully 47 percent of Americans say their lives are "routine" or "dull."

But the actual numbers are more complicated than that summation suggests. For one thing, many more people say life is "routine" than "dull"; in 2012, the breakdown was 42.6 percent to 4.7 percent. That's a rather less depressing takeaway. Intriguingly, routine's share is also at all all-time low since the General Social Survey began in 1973, and the share saying life is "exciting" is at an all-time high:

While the trends are slow and halting, it's nonetheless striking that while routine beat exciting consistently in the first decade or so of the survey, the opposite has been true since 2000 (though the margins in each case are small).

Breaking down the data further, men are likelier to say life's exciting than women. And while in the past younger respondents have tended to be more likely to describe life as exciting, that pattern has mostly broken down, with few differences from age 18 to 64 and then a drop-off in excitement at 65 and above.

College attendees are much likelier to report exciting lives, with 58.4 percent doing so compared to 49.6 percent of people with only high-school diplomas and 48.7 percent of high-school dropouts.

One could also make the argument that a little routine isn't the worst thing in the world, but the survey suggests that people with exciting lives are more satisfied than people with routine or dull lives. 44.8 percent of people reporting exciting lives also say they are very happy, compared with 19.1 percent of people with routine lives and 11.8 percent of people with dull lives.

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