WASHINGTON–U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on Wednesday participated in a moderated conversation with Steve Clemons, Founding Editor-at-Large of Semafor, for the organization’s “The State of Happiness in 2024” event marking the launch of Gallup’s 2024 World Happiness Report. Murphy discussed key takeaways from the report about happiness in America, why people are feeling this way, and what policymakers can do about it.

On what the 2024 World Happiness Report tells us about why so many Americans feel unhappy, Murphy said: “I've given, as you mentioned, a lot of thought to what is making this country so unhappy; the reasons why you have a crisis of meaning and purpose in America. This dataset just confirms what we've been watching in this country for 10 years. I think a big element of American unhappiness is this sense of powerlessness that people have; people feel like they are playing by the rules — particularly youth, right, who sort of feel like they are playing by the rules, feel like they're doing everything that they are told—and they feel as if success is further and further away. That sense of powerlessness is in part because they don't feel like democracy is working. So young people are like, ‘I fear for my life when I go to school, the climate is going to be out of reach for me to fix when I become older, and my government's doing nothing about it.’ But some of it also is that these companies have become so big and so unaccountable, and so opaque, that people feel a sense of consumer powerlessness. Because there's no ability to make these companies compete against each other. If you don't like Facebook, or you don't like TikTok, and you're a young person, there's not a lot of other places to go. So, the market doesn't seem to be working either.”

On why lawmakers should care about growing rates of loneliness and social isolation, Murphy said: “We're just spending far less time with other people than we did 20 years ago. So, we have seen a rapid decline in the amount of time you spend every day with peers, for young people, but for older people as well. 20 years ago, the number of Americans who reported having 3 or fewer friends was 25%, today that number is 50%. 20 years ago, the number of Americans who said they had 0 friends was 3%. Today, that number is 12%. …I just think there is a straight line between that increasing self-reported loneliness, that increasing withdrawal, and rising suicide rates, rising overdose rates, rising violence rates, and a general overall health of the country that has been stagnant for a very long time. So, I just think it's time for us to view loneliness as a political issue. It has political consequences. It has health consequences that have cost consequences for the federal government, and we can make different choices to help people find that connection.”

On the destructive power of social media algorithms, Murphy said: “I had this conversation a couple months ago with a group of kids in my state about this bill. And the thing that they were panicked most about was not the parental consent, but the loss of the algorithm, because they have become so used to being fed on this conveyor belt things that interest them, connections, they can't imagine not having this technological crutch to engage in these basic rituals of childhood—discovery, exploration, trial and error. And I am just deeply fearful for this country, especially as we lurch into this new era of AI that these basic human functions, figuring out what you like and going through the difficult process of trial and error in that endeavor, is going to be replaced by machines. And I think that that is a big part of what leads to this unhappiness. We are not happy when machines do those basic human functions for us.”

On his hope for bipartisan collaboration amongst policymakers, Murphy said: “This conversation that you're convening, right, is happening in increasing pace and frequency. And I do think that there is an ability for both parties to come together on some of the beginning elements of doing better when it comes to an issue like social connection. I'm really encouraged by the fact that we do have the ability to bring together Republicans and Democrats around regulating social media, and I think that that would be a really important signal to the country — that we hear you when it comes to this crisis of meaning and purpose and connection, and that we are willing to break through barriers to do something about it. So, I'm hopeful.”