There's a single question you can ask that instantly reveals the differences between America and the rest of the world — and it's not about income, religion, lifestyle, or politics.

Top image: Visible Earth / NASA Earth Observatory.

Ready? It's "how's your day going?" It's the blandest of questions and — if you ever want to truly, deeply discomfort someone — all you have to do is give them an even slightly less than bland answer. And yet, the difference researchers found in how people answered that question depending on where they lived shows something unusual about the United States.


The question was originally designed as merely a warm-up question, to give the subjects a false sense of comfort with the interviewer for when the more personal questions kicked off a few moments later. But when Pew researchers asked it to groups of people around the world as part of a large scale survey on global attitudes and perceptions, and then compared the results with just those of Americans, something weird happened.

Regardless of what day the survey was being administered on, Americans were having an unusually good day. Perhaps, theorized the researchers, it had something to do with our high per capita income. But when they adjusted for income, things just got weirder. Countries with similar income levels — Germany, Japan, the U.K. — all were less likely to say they were having a good day, in some cases (like Japan where under 10% of respondents were likely to call that particular day good) markedly so. The only countries that reported similar levels of a measure which I will from now on be calling the GGDI (Global Good Day Index) were countries with less than half our income levels.

So what's going on here? There are a couple possible explanations for this: Perhaps Americans really are exceptionally optimistic. Or perhaps it's simply that a response of "good" is the easiest route around here to keeping our social interactions frictionless. Either way, it's a reminder this seemingly boring question has a lot going on.