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The Occupy Wall Street protests, residents' economic mood and outlook has been well documented. Yet, underlying emotional and identity factors are often overlooked.
In the middle of the economic recession and the Occupy Wall Street protests, residents' economic mood and outlook has been well documented. Yet, underlying emotional and identity factors are often overlooked, such as whether Americans feel they are fulfilling their own personal potential or not.

A new study by Barna Group examines these kinds of indicators, looking at how Americans think about their lives these days. Four characteristics of millions of residents emerged from the survey.

1. One-third of Americans are struggling to live to their "fullest potential."
One out of every three adults in this country say they are not living life to their fullest potential, including those who say they are "not at all" (6%) or "not much" (26%). A slim majority of adults (57%) feel they are "mostly" fulfilling their potential, while about one out of eight (12%) feel "completely" fulfilled. Those most likely to feel they are fulfilling their potential include Elders (ages 65-plus), practicing Christians, and Bible readers.

Interestingly, education was correlated with fulfillment, but only to a certain point: college graduates were some of the least dissatisfied, but they were also some of the least likely to feel completely fulfilled. A similar pattern emerged with regard to personal economics: the wealthiest Americans were some of the most likely to give extreme responses, either very fulfilled or very unfulfilled.

2. Seventy million Americans feel held back by their past.
Overall, 70 million Americans (31% of adults) feel "held back or defined by something in their past." This perception was most commonly expressed by younger adults, blacks, divorced adults, unmarried individuals, and those who have some college experience but never completed their degree. Those with a practicing faith were among the least likely to feel defined or held back by their past. Lower-income households were more likely than average (38%) to feel defined by their past, though 25% of higher-income households were also likely to share this perception.

3. Nearly 70 million Americans are dealing with emotional conflict.
When asked if they are dealing with unresolved emotional pain or conflict in life, three out of 10 adults (30%) confirm this description is a present reality for them. This perception was most common among lower-income adults, divorcees, women, and those with no faith allegiance. Married adults, Elders, men, and practicing Christians were the least likely to be dealing with unresolved emotional conflict.

4. One-sixth of Americans are wrestling with the role of church and religion.
In total, 15% of Americans said their experiences with religion have caused them to question God, a sentiment that was most common among twentysomethings, college graduates, unmarried adults, non-Christians, and unchurched adults. Similarly, 16% of Americans said they have been hurt by experiences in churches. This perception was most common among women, Boomers (the generation born between 1946 and 1964), and divorced adults.

David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, directed the survey. He pointed out: "In recent weeks the Occupy Wall Street movement has focused on the economic gap between the wealthiest one percent of the population and the remaining 99 percent. As others have observed this movement reflects a mix of anti-institutionalism and disillusionment with the economy, government and financial industry.

"But perhaps Americans' growing dissatisfaction with institutions is more influenced than they realize by their own personal expectations and experiences. While people are increasingly skeptical of external forces, like religion and government, the research shows that internal doubts about fulfillment, faith, emotion and personal history significantly define millions of the nation's residents."

Barna Research Online
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Author Biography

George Barna
Web site: Barna Research Online
George Barna is the president of the Barna Research Group, Ltd., a marketing research firm located in Ventura, CA.

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