This past year has been tough on everyone, to say the least. How bad was it? So bad I am reminded of a tale of woe titled “The Old Philosopher.” It was a a one-hit wonder recording that made the Billboard Top 40 in 1956. 


Part of the story was related as such: “Ya say ya can't pull your car out of the mud and you're in the middle of nowhere and it's pouring rain and and your paycheck is all blurred and your foot went right through the gas and your girl is screaming bloody murder. Then a stroke of lightning splits your motor in half and your suit is shrinking up fast and sixty yards barbed wire hits ya smack in the face and ya fall down in the mud and then a wild animal comes over and runs away with your shoes. And ya can't move and the mud is rising up to your nostrils and you're sinking fast and ya don't hear your girl screaming anymore? Is that what's on your mind, cousin?”


Even with all this misery, however, there was a bit of encouragement that better days were on the horizon. “Well lift your head up high and take a walk in the sun with dignity and stick-to-it-ness and ya show the world where to get off. You'll never give up, never give up, never give up...that ship!” Listen to it all at:


If you feel unhappy, you are not alone. According to the World Happiness Report, we in the United States are not doing many cartwheels. “The 2021 report focuses on the effects of COVID-19 and how people all over the world have fared.” The five happiest countries are: Finland, Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland and  Netherlands. At the bottom of the scale are: Costa Rica, United Kingdom, Czech Republic, United States and Belgium.  


According to the report, trust is a key to happiness. “Trust and having a sense of community and kindness really does matter. When it comes to health, better levels of trust and having women in power shows a significant correlation with fewer deaths from COVID.” See the full report at:


A major cause of unhappiness is stress. “Money issues and the pandemic are the top two things Americans are anxious about right now. “A WalletHub survey looked at all fifty states using more than three dozen metrics in four main categories: stress related to work, money, family, and health and safety.” (


WalletHub said the most stressed states are: Nevada, Louisiana, New Mexico, West Virginia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, California, Kentucky, Texas. The least stresses states are: Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, Nebraska, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Utah, South Dakota. 


Michigan finished fifteenth in the overall rankings. However, we were ninth in the health and safety category. See the full results at:


Obviously, stress is not something any of us enjoy. “Being in a stressed state over a long period of time starts putting pressure on the nervous system, because basically stress hijacks your critical thinking and puts you into reactionary thinking—fight or flight.” has some suggestions. “After a year a chronic stress, what your brain needs is a reboot of sorts. Strategies include: exercise daily, rethink your diet, Identify, categorize, and address your stressors, and connect with others.” See the detailed advice at:


Another problem is exhaustion. “Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much you sleep, you still feel exhausted and on the path to burnout. There are ways to be more strategic about how you relax when you have the time.”


Rescue Time gives some direction in this regard. “True rest (the type that leaves you feeling energized, inspired, and like you can take on the world) requires three key elements: relaxing your mind, relaxing  your body and relaxing your expectations.”


One pointer caught my attention. I am a list guy. I love to make detailed lists of everything I have to accomplish (big to minuscule). Then, I delight in crossing items off the list. Now I have a descriptive for this behavior – closing loops. 


“If you’ve ever gotten into bed only to have your mind race with all the unfinished tasks, to-dos, and conflicts at work then you know the importance of relaxing your mind. As you can imagine, thinking about unfinished tasks while stressing about potential future ones makes it impossible to relax your racing mind. Closing open loops is a concrete and actionable solution. It's an important part of an effective shutdown ritual.” See more relaxation tips at:


All these mental exercises are valuable to be sure. However, there may be a less complicated path to relieving stress and improving your happiness quotient. “Among the statistics found in a new survey by is that ninety-three percent of people who got a 'pandemic pet' felt improved mental and/or physical wellbeing. Over eighty percent said it made working from home and being at home during the pandemic more enjoyable."


It seems that caring for a pet has distinct benefits. “The top two reasons why people adopted a cat or dog in the last year are for emotional support and happiness (forty-one percent) and because they needed something positive in their life (thirty-nine percent).


You might be interested to know that fifty-three percent of survey-takers who adopted a pet in the last twelve months adopted a dog. Thirty-two percent took in a cat. Fourteen percent went all in and adopted both a dog and a cat. (


What can we take from all of this? When things seem darkest there is always light at the end of the tunnel. As Nelson Mandela stated: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” 


Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read Neff Zone columns online at and

(Touch a state to see the ranking.)

Source: WalletHub