Gallup Redefines Conventional Wisdom

If you have your health, you have everything. That's the conventional wisdom, right?

In a word: No. According to the Gallup Organization, when it comes to ranking what matters most, health is actually near the bottom of the list for most Americans. They say what matters is money, romance, and recreation.

Gallup never calls our house, and I don't actually know people who feel they have enough money, romance, or recreation, so I wonder, to whom are they talking? Certainly, not anyone out here in suburbia, where money is measured in too-small sneaker sizes and what passes for romance is an occasional long smooch with a chorus of “yuck!” in the background.

Or maybe Gallup does call our house, and we don't answer it because we're eating dinner. Maybe all this time they were trying to find out what areas in my life were really satisfying to me, but I thought they wanted to sell me something and didn't pick up.

Those who did answer the phone ranked their levels of personal satisfaction in ten areas: family, friends, career, money, health, romance, personal growth, where they live, religion and spirituality, and fun and recreation.

The good news is most people actually are content in their relationships with family and friends. Not surprisingly, women like their friendships more than men do — this is because we have actual conversations with our friends.

Some of Gallup's other findings aren't too surprising, either. Satisfaction with “where they live” increases with age — which is to say, when you retire and move to a sunny place, it is good. When you answer a Gallup poll in the middle of winter in the Midwest, it is not. Thank goodness, Gallup gets this important data for us.

When asked about romance, men were satisfied, women less so. This is easy to understand. Men don't need romance. They only do it to keep women from complaining (about where they live and money and their lack of personal growth). Gallup says, “A reassuring 53 percent of married respondents say they are highly satisfied with the romance in their lives, versus only 28 percent of unmarried respondents.” Apparently, some romance is better than none, even if it comes with diapers and a mortgage.

Personal growth is an interesting area in Gallup's survey. Women are more likely than men to say they are highly satisfied with the personal growth they have achieved in life. Of course, any woman who has ever yelled “grow up!” in the midst of an argument with a man can explain that men often do not bother with this category. So again, it's no surprise.

The career satisfaction question was confined to people with careers. Of those, only 26 percent were highly satisfied with their careers. That leaves a whole lot of people who aren't too keen on their jobs, and I think we all know who they are.

Money? Only 14 percent said they were highly satisfied with their financial situation. This probably correlates in other surveys to the people who have their heads screwed on straight and their priorities in order. Gallup doesn't say.

But what about that old, conventional wisdom. Is it really true that Americans don't view their health as an important aspect of contentment? And what about religion and spirituality? Isn't this the path to inner peace and satisfaction?

Maybe for some people, but not according to Gallup. Their special data analysis said, “Satisfaction with money, romance, fun and recreation are most closely linked with the degree to which people are satisfied with their lives in general. Far less important are religion and spirituality, personal growth…and even health.”

This explains a lot.

If money, romance, and fun are at the top of the list, and spirituality, personal growth, and health are at the bottom, we can stop asking ourselves why reality shows about how to marry a rich millionaire dominate the airwaves.

Then again, it makes you wonder if there's a “chicken and egg” problem here. Are we judging our personal contentment on the things that really do matter to us, or are we dissatisfied with life because of the constant barrage of media influences telling us these are the paths to happiness?

Like I said, Gallup doesn't call me. But I can't help but think I would answer some of those questions differently. Except the one about family and friends. In that category, I'm happy to be just an average, “highly satisfied” American.

(Marybeth Hicks is a writer and author of the features “then again.” and “A View from the Pew.” A wife of 17 years and mother of four children from second grade to sophomore year, she uses her columns to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families and the communities we share. Marybeth began her writing career more than 20 years ago in the Reagan White House. She also has worked in marketing and public relations positions in corporate and agency settings. Mostly, she spends a lot of time in her mini-van, where the real work of parenting actually happens. Learn more about Marybeth and her column at

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