Why is that? I'm not a sociologist, but I have a theory based on my firsthand experience here in Jordan.
In a developing country like Jordan, every aspect of life is rooted in personal relationships. Interdependence and cooperation are necessary for daily survival. Because public institutions aren't always strong, individual personalities and relationships carry tremendous influence. Anyone who has visited a government ministry or tried to negotiate a price knows that. You need to get to know the people you're doing business with. Even the simplest daily chores require cooperation with others. If you need directions in Jordan, you roll down your car window and yell to a pedestrian or another driver. On a couple occasions I've been really lost and had to ask five or six different people along the way, and they are consistently friendly and helpful. These societies are highly communal, but they're also highly inefficient. In Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortensen relates the frustration of buying local supplies for a school he wanted to build in Pakistan. Every single purchase--lumber, nails, tools--required hours of sipping tea, getting to know local merchants.
The United States, on the other hand, is the master of efficiency. Everything is a transaction, and we are continually searching for ways to cut out the highly inefficient human middle. When's the last time you asked a human being for directions, in the age of Google Maps and GPS devices? And who needs grocery store checkers, when you can check out yourself out using a computer? Business is governed by our highly developed laws and bureaucratic processes that often leave little or no human wiggle room (try canceling your cell phone contract early... but oh, by the way, you'll have to navigate through that highly efficient computerized phone system just to talk to the person whose hands are tied and who can't help you). No more negotiating with that traffic cop, explaining why you don't deserve a ticket for speeding; now we have cameras that can snap a photo of your license plate and send you the ticket in the mail. If you're not inclined to leave your house, you can buy everything you need to survive online. We've even managed to cut the problematic human component out of sex; pornography replaces relationship with a highly efficient sexual transaction.
Don't get me wrong. I love the United States and I enjoy many of the gains we enjoy as citizens from our efficient, free, and innovative society. Amazon.com is a godsend, I like having dependable (mostly) public institutions, and I can't wait for the day Jordan gets good GPS maps. But it seems to me that all this innovation does come at a high cost: the replacement of community with a severe and dangerous degree of individualism. As messy and problematic as human relationships often are, we are made for community. Is it possible that much of our culture's unhappiness stems from our growing alienation from one another?
I spent some time living in Seattle, a city full of young transients there to work or study. It's the kind of city where twenty people in the same apartment building can be depressed and on medication because they're lonely, but never meet each other--except maybe by coincidence in an online chat room. C.S. Lewis extrapolates this to its natural conclusion in The Great Divorce; his vision of hell is a sprawling bleak city where people get so annoyed with one another that they steadily move farther and farther apart. Eventually they are so spread out that they never see another person. Technology and liberty give us the tools to make such a society almost possible; in fact, Isaac Asimov envisions a very similar future in his Caves of Steel trilogy.
I prefer living in a liberal democracy to any of its alternatives, but I believe it matters tremendously how individuals choose to live within such a society. In a society that doesn't force community upon its members, they must learn to embrace community on their own volition. In a society where divorce is commonplace and socially acceptable, they must find their own intrinsic motivation to make their marriages succeed. When birth control and abortion gives people unprecedented control over their family planning and children are often viewed as obstacles to personal fulfillment, couples must cultivate a mindset that cherishes children. I suspect that much of the unhappiness in the United States stems from our failure to thoughtfully reflect on these subjects. We should learn to use our freedom wisely, thoughtfully, and deliberately. Among other things, that entails recognizing how much American individualism has eroded community, and seeking to build strong communities in our personal lives.